It is always a shock to learn that a child has had a stroke. Most of us know an older adult who has had a stroke, but could never imagine it happening to a child. All parents wants to understand exactly how and why their child had a stroke. Because many children with stroke are already sick with something else, it can be frustrating to try to understand everything that is happening all at once. Sometimes medical terms and concepts can seem overwhelming.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common cause of childhood stroke. Stroke occurs in 17 to 24 percent of children with SCD, most often between the ages of 3 and 10. In those with SCD, ischemic strokes most often occur in children under the age of 15 and adults over the age of 30, while hemorrhagic strokes most often occur in young adults between the ages of 20 and 30.
This section is designed to help the families of children with stroke by providing general information about stroke that is easy to understand. Every child is different, and some of the information here might not apply to your child. Our goal is to give you the tools to understand stroke and ultimately make it easier to communicate with your child’s doctor.
Symptoms of a Stroke
Stroke is an injury to part of the brain. The symptoms of a stroke depend on what part of the brain has been injured. Every part of the brain has a different job. Different parts of the brain control everything from the way we think and speak, to how we move, to our senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch.
If a part of the brain that controls speech is injured, a child might have trouble saying or understanding words. If a part of the brain that controls movement is injured, part of a child’s body may become weak. Some children might have trouble with their vision or coordination. Other kids might have more subtle symptoms, like difficulty concentrating or numbness in a very small area of the body, like a finger or hand. Many children have symptoms that are not specific to any particular part of the brain, like headache and sleepiness. Some children have seizures, and in very rare cases, a large stroke can cause a coma or death. Your doctor will tell you what part of your child’s brain has been injured by stroke, and how this causes your child’s symptoms.
Content for this site was written by Aimee Baumann, M.D. and Thea Griffith, Psychometrist/Research Assistant. Medical review was provided by Bradley Schlaggar, M.D., Assistant Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine.