The last time you heard a stroke story, it probably didn’t involve a healthy-seeming newborn or a first-grader who went to the nurse’s office with a headache. Yet these stories are real and far from rare.
A common misconception about stroke is that it only impacts older people. In reality, stroke can happen at any age.
Stroke occurs in 3,000 children a year in the U.S. Thanks to improvements in recognizing and treating pediatric stroke, more children than ever before are surviving and recovering after experiencing a stroke. However, about half of kids who’ve suffered a stroke will have some lingering effects, such as weakness in one side of the body, problems communicating, or trouble with learning or behavior, which can range from mild to severe.
Despite these facts, pediatric stroke still tends to fall off the radar and is often missed when children present with symptoms.
Here are a few reasons why it is so important to keep talking about pediatric stroke:
- The average delay in diagnosis of a pediatric stroke is 28 hours. That’s a waste of precious time when every minute counts. Quick, proper treatment is critical to saving a child’s life, minimizing brain damage and lasting effects, and reducing the risk for another stroke.
- While many people know how to recognize when an adult is having a stroke, signs and symptoms of stroke can be difficult to recognize in children. Because we as a community are not as familiar with pediatric stroke, it’s easy not to think of stroke when you see certain symptoms in kids. For example, many children with stroke symptoms also have nonspecific symptoms like headache or a seizure, which can lead people to think of more common disorders like migraine, epilepsy or the flu — but not stroke. Doctors can fall prey to the same age-guided assumptions that parents do, leading to misdiagnosis and delayed evaluation for a stroke.
Timely and specific treatment begins with considering stroke as a possibility. When this happens, then the front-line physician (be they a primary pediatrician or an ED physician) can call on the appropriate experts for guidance and start immediate treatment. At the same time, the physician can arrange for transfer of the child to an appropriately-resourced pediatric center for a consultation with a neurologist and specific diagnostic testing, usually brain MRI.
So what can we do to keep pediatric stroke on the radar? Get informed and share what you know! There are many great educational resources available to help the public recognize pediatric stroke and ensure these children get the immediate treatment they need. Here are just a few to get started:
- A Stroke Can Happen at Any Age: The International Alliance for Pediatric Stroke, in partnership with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association created a video about pediatric stroke to help raise awareness that a stroke can happen to infants, children and even before birth. The video features Rebecca Ichord, MD, pediatric neurologist and director of the Pediatric Stroke Program at CHOP.
- Stroke Exam Demonstration: Dr. Ichord demonstrates how to evaluate a child who has experienced stroke and reviews the signs and symptoms of pediatric stroke.
- Pediatric Versus Adult Stroke: read an article about the different ways stroke appears in children versus adults, risk factors, and what to do if you suspect someone is having a stroke.
Always remember that stroke can happen at any age, and share these resources with your friends, families and even physicians!