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Stroke In Children


What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted. This can cause serious brain damage from a lack of oxygen. Brain function may be affected depending on where the stroke happens. A stroke can happen when your child is still in the womb, or at any age after birth. A stroke caused by a blood clot is called an ischemic stroke. A stroke caused by a burst or torn blood vessel is called a hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke is more common than ischemic stroke in children. When stroke symptoms last a few hours and do not cause damage, it is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA may be a warning sign that your child is about to have a stroke.

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

The word F.A.S.T. can help you remember and recognize warning signs of a stroke.

  • F = Face: One side of the face droops.
  • A = Arms: One arm starts to drop when both arms are raised.
  • S = Speech: Speech is slurred or sounds different than usual.
  • T = Time: A person who is having a stroke needs to be seen immediately. A stroke is a medical emergency that needs immediate treatment. Some medicines and treatments work best if given within a few hours of a stroke.

What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

Signs and symptoms will depend on your child's age, the type of stroke he had, and where it occurred:

  • Seizures or vision changes
  • Headache, vomiting, or a fever
  • Developmental delays that appear years after a stroke, or trouble doing schoolwork
  • Sudden weakness in an arm or leg, or trouble walking
  • Sudden trouble speaking or showing body language or gestures
  • Paralysis on one side of his body, or a tendency to use only one arm
  • Loss of consciousness

What increases my child's risk for a stroke?

  • Congenital heart disease, such as atrial septal defect, or acquired heart disease, such as endocarditis
  • Sickle cell anemia, Fabry disease, or leukemia
  • A medical condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or an autoimmune disorder that affects brain arteries
  • A vascular disease, blood clotting disorder, or brain tumor
  • High blood pressure, diabetes, or dehydration
  • Not enough physical activity, or obesity
  • A family history of stroke or certain heart conditions
  • An infection in his head or neck, or a head injury
  • An infection in the amniotic fluid during pregnancy, or membranes in the womb ruptured prematurely
  • His mother had preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)

How is a stroke diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be used to check how well your child's blood clots or to check for infection.
  • CT or MRI pictures may be used to find the area of the brain that was affected by the stroke. The pictures may also show bleeding in your child's brain. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his body.
  • Arteriography is a test that uses a type of x-ray. Pictures are taken of your child's arteries to look for blood flow blockage and bleeding. Contrast liquid may be injected into your child's arteries to help the arteries show up on x-ray. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, may be used to check for infection.

How is a stroke treated?

Treatment depends on your child's age and the type of stroke he had.

  • Medicines may be given to prevent blood clots, break up clots, or help your child's blood clot more easily. He may need medicines to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. He may also need medicine to control seizures.
  • Monitoring of your child's neurological abilities include checking his reflexes and eye movements and ability to speak. Healthcare providers will check your child's reactions to light, sound, and touch. Physical abilities, such as being able to swallow and move, will also be monitored.
  • Thrombolysis is a procedure used to break apart clots in an artery. A catheter is guided into the artery until it is near the clot. Medicine is put through the catheter that will help break apart the clot.
  • Surgery may be used to remove a blood clot or to relieve pressure within your child's brain. He may also need surgery to place a clip to stop blood flow into an artery in his brain.

What can I do to care for my child after a stroke?

  • Take your child to rehabilitation (rehab) as directed. Rehab is an important part of treatment. A child's brain may be able to adapt to loss of function better than an adult's brain. Rehab can help your child relearn how to walk, read, or do other activities lost because of the stroke. A speech therapist helps your child relearn or improve his ability to talk and swallow. Physical therapists can help your child gain strength and build endurance. Occupational therapists teach your child new ways to do daily activities, such as getting dressed. Therapy can help your child improve his ability to walk or keep his balance. Take your child to rehab right away. The earlier your child starts rehab, the more effective it will be.
  • Make your child's home safe. Your child may have trouble walking or keeping his balance after a stroke. Remove anything he might trip over. Tape electrical cords down. Keep paths clear throughout your home. Make sure your home is well lighted. Put nonslip materials on surfaces that might be slippery. An example is your bathtub or shower floor.
  • Help your child use assistive devices. Your child may need to use a walker or other device to help him keep his balance as he walks.

How can a stroke in children be prevented?

  • Talk to your child about not smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase your child's risk for another stroke and cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if your older child currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Manage health conditions. Conditions such as sickle cell anemia increase your child's risk for another stroke. He may be able to get blood transfusions to prevent a stroke if he has sickle cell anemia.
  • Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Your child should eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Offer foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. Choose foods that are high in potassium, such as potatoes and bananas.
  • Have your child exercise as directed. Activity is important for preventing another stroke. Exercise may help your child be able to do his normal activities more easily. Exercise also helps control blood pressure and weight.
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much your child should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if your child is overweight.
  • Check your child's blood pressure as directed. High blood pressure can increase your child's risk for a stroke. If he has high blood pressure, follow your healthcare provider's directions for controlling his blood pressure.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Stroke Association
    9707 E. Easter Lane
    Centennial , CO 80112
    Phone: 1- 800 - 787-6537
    Web Address:

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • Your child's arm or leg is warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child feels lightheaded, short of breath, and has chest pain.
  • Your child coughs up blood.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child is bleeding from his rectum or nose.
  • Your child has vision loss or a severe headache.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's blood pressure is higher or lower than you were told it should be.
  • Your child has trouble having a bowel movement or urinating.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.