Pediatric Stroke Program

Arterial Ischemic Stroke (AIS)

What is AIS?

Ischemia or ischemic comes from the Greek word to "keep back" or "stop" the supply of blood to an area. An arterial ischemic stroke (AIS) occurs when blood flow in an artery to the brain is blocked by narrowing of the artery, or when a blood clot forms in the artery and blocks the supply of blood to a part of the brain. A blockage of blood flow in an artery can happen in several different ways:


Blood flow, oxygen and the brain

The blood carries oxygen and other important nutrients to the brain. The brain needs oxygen to survive. If a part of the brain does not receive oxygen from the blood for a certain period of time, the tissue in that part of the brain will become damaged or die.

Warning signs of AIS

Children and teenagers may have one or more symptoms when they are having an arterial ischemic stroke. Typically these symptoms occur suddenly. They include:

Newborns and infants may have these symptoms:

Sometimes there are no symptoms with newborns and very young infants until they grow older. Then, they may have trouble with movement on one side of the body.

Causes of AIS

For many children, it can be hard to find out exactly what caused the blockage of the artery that led to the stroke. Some of the leading causes of childhood stroke include:

Diagnosing AIS

The Stroke Team will want to find out as much information as possible to diagnose your child's stroke and the reasons why the stroke occurred.

Physical exam

The Stroke Team will perform a thorough physical exam including a neurological exam to gain more information about how your child's brain is currently working.


The Stroke Team will request that blood tests be done to test to see if your child has any underlying blood problems that could cause a stroke. Please see our Glossary for definitions of some of these tests.


The Stroke Team will request that various types of tests be done that will give a better picture or "image" of your child's brain. These tests may include Computed Tomography (CT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Magnetic Resonance Angiogram (MRA) or Cerebral Angiogram. If the Stroke Team feels more information about your child's heart may be useful, they may order an echocardiogram. Please see our Glossary for definitions of some of these tests.

Other tests

Depending on your child's symptoms, the Stroke Team may feel a need to order some other tests. These may include a lumbar puncture (LP) also known as a "spinal tap" to look for signs of infection or inflammation that may have caused the stroke. Please see our Glossary for definitions of some of these tests.

Treating AIS

Immediately after the stroke, the treatment given to your child will focus on things that will prevent the stroke from getting worse. This will include ensuring that your child has enough fluids (given through an IV or intravenous needle typically put in a vein in the child's arm or hand) and keeping the child lying flat. Medications for any pain symptoms may be given as well.

Further treatment will vary depending on the suspected cause of the stroke. Some treatment may focus on preventing blood clots from happening in the future. In this case anticoagulant ("anti-clot") medications (such as COUMADIN, HEPARIN or LOVENOX) or an antiplatelet medication such as aspirin (that prevents blood platelets from clumping together to form a clot) may be prescribed. In addition, other treatment will focus on preventing fever and keeping the sugar levels in the blood at normal levels.

Recovering from AIS

How much the stroke will affect your child's day-to-day life depends on the location and severity of the stroke. Some strokes cause mild problems. Some cause more severe problems. Some children may continue to have seizures. The Stroke Team will consult with the Rehabilitation Team for advice on how best to help your child recover. Rehabilitation uses a structured series of exercises to help your child recover from the effects of the stroke. Therapy usually begins within 48 hours of admission, provided your child is medically stable and is able to tolerate these activities. Members of the Rehabilitation Team may include a Physical Therapist (PT), Occupational Therapist (OT), Speech Therapist, Neuropsychologist and Physiatrist (Rehab or "PM &R" Physician).

Depending on the results of their assessments, it may be recommended that your child have further rehabilitation. This rehabilitation could range from a stay in the inpatient rehabilitation unit, to Day Hospital rehabilitation, to outpatient rehabilitation appointments. Rehabilitation may last from weeks to months depending on your child's needs. It is important to keep in mind that children recover more quickly from a stroke as compared to adults. Members of the Stroke Team and the Rehabilitation Team will continue to assist you and your child in the recovering process and help your child return to a more normal lifestyle as soon as possible. If your child is school age, we will work with your child's school to recommend any needed changes to your child's curriculum and school day.

Reviewed by: Rebecca N. Ichord, MD
Date: October 2006

For more information:

About Pediatric Stroke
Fast facts
Risk groups
Types of stroke syndromes
Signs and symptoms

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