A guide to pediatric stroke

While there are many medical conditions that are more common in some age groups than others, there are very few that pose no risk to any particular age demographic. When we’re talking about strokes, the risk does increase with age, but it can still occur in pediatric and adolescent age individuals.

Pediatric stroke, sometimes known as childhood stroke, is a rare medical condition that affects approximately 1 in every 40,000 children in the United States. Rare conditions like these aren’t often heard of or talked about. It can be challenging to determine the appropriate treatment for a child within your family when faced with such circumstances.

What is a pediatric stroke?

Let’s start off with the basic definition of a stroke. A stroke is a cerebrovascular (blood vessel) disorder that occurs when there is an interruption or reduced amount of blood bringing nutrients and oxygen to the brain. The vessel could be clogged or it could rupture. A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate assistance.

Pediatric stroke refers to strokes that occur in anyone under the age of 18, but they’re seen more in newborns than older children (infants, toddlers, etc.) on an annual basis. Every year, 4,000 newborns and 2,000 older children are affected by pediatric stroke.

There are two classifications of strokes that can occur in both childhood and adulthood. An ischemic stroke means that the artery has been blocked, which is the case for 87% of strokes. A hemorrhagic stroke means there’s bleeding in or around the brain.

Symptoms of a pediatric stroke

It’s important to know the symptoms of a pediatric stroke to ensure the child gets the immediate attention they require if they start exhibiting them. A pediatric stroke can cause:

  • Slurred speech 
  • Difficulty with walking or balance
  • Arm numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • Sudden vision loss or double vision
  • Facial drooping
  • Sudden drowsiness

These are similar symptoms to those of other common conditions, such as epilepsy, migraines, brain infections or tumors. Your child should be taken to the emergency room for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Causes and risk factors of pediatric stroke

There are various potential causes of a pediatric stroke, many of which are other medical conditions or disorders that can increase the likelihood of a child having one. Here are conditions that can be risk factors for childhood stroke:

  • Sickle cell disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Hypercoagulability syndromes
  • Arteriopathies

Other potential causes are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Neck or head trauma

Treatment and recovery following pediatric stroke

When a child has a pediatric stroke, they must be seen by an emergency physician. Immediate treatment may include IV fluids, oxygen and/or blood transfusion. After they’re discharged from the hospital, it’s time for the child to begin the recovery process through rehabilitation. While recovery looks different for every patient, it can take weeks or months of rehabilitation for a child to recover as much function as possible.

Following a pediatric stroke, a child may experience impairments in cognitive, emotional and physical function. Depending on the location, type and severity of the stroke, a child may experience behavioral changes, communication delays or challenges, weakness on one side of the body, or vision difficulties. 

Rehabilitation after childhood stroke is based on a personalized treatment plan made through collaboration with the patient’s family and doctors, considering their age, challenges and overall wellness goals. The rehabilitation team can work with the child and their family to improve impaired functions so that the child can continue to learn and grow to the best of their abilities.

A pediatric stroke recovery treatment plan is likely to include: 

  • Recreational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Neuropsychology
  • Vital stimulation

Ability KC can help children and their families following a pediatric stroke

A pediatric stroke can be a challenging time for the entire family. But the right support and rehabilitation services can give you hope that your child can learn and grow.

Rehabilitation plays a vital role in a child’s recovery process following a pediatric stroke. Ability KC’s outpatient pediatric rehabilitation facility uses education and specialized treatments tailored to children’s needs and abilities to help improve their cognitive, emotional and physical functions.

We also have an inclusive learning center, the Mary Shaw Branton Therapeutic Preschool. In addition to educational services, our therapeutic preschool provides medical and therapeutic services to make sure all of your child’s needs are met. Our trained professionals can help students up to 5 years old develop their physical and cognitive abilities, along with their social, communication and emotional skills. 

Ability KC is a designated Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF) with a Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accreditation. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.