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Health Information For Parents
A stroke (sometimes called a “brain attack”) happens when blood flow to the brain stops, even for a second.
Blood carries oxygen and other important substances to the body’s cells and organs, including the brain. In an ischemic (ih-SKEE-mik) stroke, these substances can’t get to the brain and brain cells die. This can permanently damage the brain and make a person’s body stop working as it should.
In a hemorrhagic (heh-meh-RA-jik) stroke, a blood vessel in the brain breaks, flooding the brain with blood and damaging brain cells.
Many of us think that strokes only happen in adults, especially older adults. But kids can have strokes too. Although they’re less common in kids, strokes can happen in children of all ages, even those who haven’t been born yet.
Strokes in children most often happen within the first month after birth. These are sometimes called perinatal (or neonatal) strokes. Most perinatal (pair-ih-NAY-tul) strokes happen during delivery or right after delivery when the baby doesn’t get enough oxygen while traveling through the birth canal.
Strokes also can affect older kids. But most of these are caused by another condition that stops the flow of blood to the brain or causes bleeding in the brain.
Finding the cause of a stroke in a child can be hard. Strokes in adults often happen because of high blood pressure, diabetes, or atherosclerosis. The risk factors for stroke in children are more varied.
Ischemic strokes are the most common type in children. They’re usually related to:
Some problems that affect a mother during pregnancy can cause a baby to have an ischemic stroke before or after birth. These include:
Hemorrhagic strokes can be caused by:
Signs of a stroke in older children are often similar to signs in adults, such as:
Babies who have a perinatal stroke often don’t show any signs of it until months or years later. In some cases, they develop normally, but at a much slower pace than other kids. They also might tend to use one hand more than the other.
Children whose perinatal strokes cause more brain injury might have seizures. The severity of seizures can vary, ranging from the child simply staring into space to violent shaking of an arm or leg.
Signs of a stroke in infants:
A seizure may be the first sign that an older child or adolescent has had a stroke. These children might also have sudden paralysis (inability to move) or weakness on one side of the body, depending on the area of the brain that’s affected and the amount of damage the stroke causes. More likely, a parent first notices changes in the child’s behavior, concentration, memory, or speech.
Common signs of stroke in kids and teens:
If your child has any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away or call 911. Kids who are actively having a stroke can be given medicine that might reduce the severity of the stroke and the brain damage it can cause.
Perinatal and early childhood strokes can be hard to diagnose, especially if a child has no clear signs or symptoms. In some cases, a stroke is found to be causing seizures or developmental delays only after many other conditions have been ruled out.
If stroke is suspected, a doctor will probably want the child to have one or more of these tests:
Treatment for a stroke is based on:
Many different treatments are possible. For example:
For most kids, treatment also involves:
Brain damage from a stroke can cause a number of problems, some of which can be lasting, such as:
Kids who’ve had a stroke will see doctors who specialize in helping people cope with these problems. These specialists might include:
A physiatrist might oversee the child’s care.
At this time, there’s no treatment that can fix brain cells that have died. But undamaged brain cells can learn to do the jobs of cells that have died, especially in young people.
In many cases after a stroke, kids can learn to use their arms and legs and speak again through brain retraining. This process is usually slow and difficult. But kids have an edge over adults because their young brains are still developing. Most kids who have had strokes can interact normally and be active members of their communities.
If your child had a stroke, you aren’t facing his or her rehabilitation and future care alone. The doctors and therapists who will work with your child are there to support the whole family. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your child’s condition or treatment or to ask for help when you need it.
Also look for support groups for parents of kids who have had strokes, such as:
The input and support from other parents facing the same challenges can help you find the strength you need to help your child get the best care possible.
Meningitis is treatable, but can be serious. So it’s important to know the symptoms, and get medical care right away if you think that your child has the illness.
Although seizures can be frightening, usually they last only a few minutes, stop on their own, and are almost never life-threatening.
Seizures are caused by a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. Find out what you need to know about seizures and what to do if your child has one.
If the brain is a central computer that controls all the functions of the body, then the nervous system is like a network that relays messages back and forth to different parts of the body. Find out how they work in this Body Basics article.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common developmental disabilities in the United States. It affects a person’s ability to move and coordinate body movements.
Cerebral palsy (CP) affects a child’s muscle tone, movement, and more. This article explains causes, diagnosis, treatment, and coping.
The brain controls everything we do, and is often likened to the central computer within a vast, complicated communication network, working at lightning speed.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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