On average, it takes 12 to 24 hours for adults to get to the hospital after recognizing the first symptom of stroke. That time shoots to 48 to 72 hours for children.
This delay occurs mostly due to the widespread belief that strokes don't happen to children. Chicken pox, croup, ear infections -- these are the things we associate with sick children. Not stroke.
Yet a small but meaningful percentage of children do have strokes, and the causes are dramatically different from those in adults.
Causes of Childhood Stroke
Strokes in adults often can be blamed on high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of smoking, too much alcohol and obesity.
In contrast, children's strokes are more often caused by:
- birth defects
- infections (eg, meningitis, encephalitis)
- blood disorders such as sickle cell disease
Stroke-related disabilities is another area where childhood and adult stroke survivors can differ.
Due to brain cell damage caused by the stroke, both children and adults who have strokes often have problems with:
- speech and communication
- paralysis or weakness on one side
But there are some stroke-related disabilities that are unique to children, including:
- cerebral palsy
- mental retardation
Other stroke complications for children are:
- change of mental state
- poor nutrition and conditions that result from prolonged bedrest
Babies and Stroke
Babies who have strokes in the womb or within the first month of life are especially at risk for cerebral palsy. While in the womb, a baby needs oxygen-rich blood so that its brain can develop and grow. When a stroke occurs, the blood and oxygen do not flow to all parts of the brain. This causes brain damage in the growing brain, which can cause cerebral palsy.
Also, during and shortly following the delivery, babies can be at risk for stroke if there are problems with the brain getting enough oxygen. This is particulary true in the premature baby.
Childhood Stroke Is Rare
The incidence of stroke in children less than 15 years old is about 6 cases in every 100,000 children per year. Strokes are slightly more common in children under the age of two. The incidence of stroke in children has remained stable for the past 10 years, but stroke and other cerebrovascular disorders are among the top 10 causes of death in children in the U.S.
Children Heal Better
While strokes in children can be devastating, children have a better ability to heal because of the greater plasticity or flexibility of the child's nervous system and brain. A child's brain is still developing, therefore it may have a greater ability to repair itself. With the help of physical and speech therapy, most childhood stroke survivors recover the use of their arms, legs and speech.
F.A.S.T. Action Improves Impact
The most effective stroke treatments must be given within the first 3 hours after stroke symptoms start. By recognizing signs of stroke in children and acting fast, you can help medical professionals lessen a stroke's damage to the child's brain.
Childhood stroke symptoms are similar to those of adult stroke:
- a severe headache -- often the first complaint
- speech difficulties
- eye movement problems
Use the following tool to help you think F.A.S.T.:
|Ask the child to smile.
Does one side of the face droop?
|ARMS||Ask the child to raise both arms.
Does one arm drift downward?
|SPEECH||Ask the child to repeat a simple sentence.
Are the words slurred? Can the patient repeat the sentence correctly?
|TIME||If the child shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.|