How We Treat Pediatric Stroke
Pediatric stroke is a condition where a child experiences a lack of blood flow to the brain because of either a blood clot or bleeding injury. Children who experience stroke may have a wide variety of outcomes depending on the type, size and location of the stroke. Our center works in collaboration with Children’s Hospital of Colorado to offer personalized care, research and rehabilitation for children who have experienced stroke.
At the HTC our specialized staff has experience working with children who have suffered a stroke. We offer regular clinics to analyze your child’s needs, treat their symptoms and provide support. At our Pediatric Stroke Comprehensive Clinic, patients and their families meet with a multi-disciplinary team that provides guidance and treatment from hematologists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, social workers, rehabilitation, pharmacists and our research team.
Treatment: Most pediatric stroke patients come to us after already experiencing stroke and treatment is needed to combat the results of the stroke and prevent further damage. This can include medication provided by our specialized pharmacy, and regular visits with neurologists and hematologists and neuropsychologists.
Rehabilitation: Recovery from the physical damage from pediatric stroke often requires multiple forms of treatment. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and vision therapy services are resources a pediatric patient may need to combat the aftermath of stroke. The HTC provides, or can refer patients to, this specialized care.
Support: Our social workers are specifically trained to assist families manage the many emotional and psychological impacts that can accompany pediatric stroke. We provide emotional support, education, assistance finding the resources families need and guidance navigating insurance coverage. The HTC also provides programs that offer group support to patients and their families and sponsors the Pediatric Stroke Parent Support Group.
Research: As a part of the University of Colorado, we have faculty and staff on campus that are researching pediatric stroke and performing studies as to why children suffer stroke. Researchers on our staff have optional programs that patients and families may be interested in that are designed to improve treatment, understanding and prevention of stroke.
See our Clinic page for details on how to set up an appointment for care.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pediatric Stroke
What is Pediatric Stroke?
Just like in adults, a pediatric stroke is a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain in a child. Most strokes occur in adults but 2-6 out of every 100,000 children in the U.S. will suffer a stroke each year.
There are two major types of strokes in children:
1.) Ischemic strokes are caused by lack of blood flow, oxygen and/or or nutrients to the brain, often triggered by a clot in the arteries or veins.
- Arterial ischemic stroke can be caused by abnormalities in blood vessels in the brain or neck, clotting or bleeding disorders, sickle cell disease and certain heart or metabolic conditions.
- Cerebral Sinovenous Thrombosis (CSVT) is caused when a blood clot forms in a vein near the brain.
2.) Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by bleeding.
What causes a pediatric ischemic stroke?
The cause of a pediatric ischemic stroke is not always clear but the leading causes include:
- Heart disease
- Ear or sinus infections that do not heal
- Blood clotting disorders
- Serious infections
- Accidents involving the head or neck region
- Sickle cell anemia
- Narrowing or damaged blood vessels in the brain or neck
- Moyamoya disease
What causes a pediatric hemorrhagic stroke?
As in ischemic stroke, it is frequently unclear what causes a pediatric hemorrhagic stroke but the leading causes are:
- Abnormalities of blood vessels in the brain (arteriovenous malformations, aneurysms, cavernous malformations
- Bleeding disorders, including Hemophilia
- Blood clots in the draining veins of the brain
We are trying to learn more about why children have strokes through the research done at our clinics.
What are the signs and symptoms of pediatric stroke?
Stroke symptoms in a child or teen can be similar to those of an adult. A quick way to assess stroke is to remember FAST:
F = Face. Ask the person to smile. Does the side of the face droop or is their smile crooked?
A = Arms. Ask the person to lift both of their arms in the air. Does one arm drift downward, or is one arm more difficult to lift than the other?
S = Speech. Ask the person to speak. Are the words slurred? Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?
T = Time. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast to begin treatment as soon as possible.
Sometimes it is difficult to know if a newborn or younger child is having a stroke because the symptoms are not as visible and because they are not able to communicate what is happening to them. Some additional stroke symptoms include:
- Seizures or body “ticks”
- Extreme sleepiness
- Sudden loss of vision or abnormal eye movement
- Loss of balance or difficulty walking
- Unexplained change in level of consciousness
As with older children, seek immediate care if a young child or infant shows symptoms of stroke.
What ages of children can have strokes?
Stroke can occur at any age, including in newborn babies. Babies can have both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, but their causes can be different than in older children.
Is there a cure for stroke?
While children can have a positive recovery from stroke, there is no cure. A child’s recovery will depend on the size and location of the stroke. Usually recovery will include several medical professionals who will consult with patients and family members to improve the recovery of a child who has experienced pediatric stroke. Often this will include visits with neuropsychologists, hematologists, rehabilitation, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and others that may help a child’s recovery.
How can stroke be treated?
Strokes can be treated in several ways and will depend on the type and location of the stroke. Meeting with a doctor can guide patients and family to understand the best treatment option for a child who has experienced a stroke.
- Antithrombotic therapy is medication that helps prevent blood clots from forming or growing in ischemic strokes. Surgery is less common, but can be done to relieve pressure in the brain.
- Thrombolysis, or tPA, is a medication that is injected into the clot to dissolve it. While tPA must be done within hours of stroke symptoms, it is not typically used in small children.
- Treatment for hemorrhagic stroke depends on the reason for the stroke. If an abnormal blood vessel is found, surgical removal or repair may be needed. With a bleeding disorder, medications that help stop bleeding may be given. In any case, surgery can sometimes be indicated to relieve pressure in the brain.
Where can parents find support?
Having a child who has experienced pediatric stroke has unique challenges and it can be helpful to have the support of other families who have been through the experience. A child who has experienced stroke may benefit from getting to know other kids who face similar challenges. Our Pediatric Stroke Parent Support Group welcomes families of children of all ages and all types of stroke. Your child does not need to be seen at our stroke clinic to join these meetings. For more information about this group, please see our Pediatric Stroke Parent Support Group page.