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Stroke: An Unexpected Childhood Medical Problem

baby reaching for father's finger

baby reaching for father's finger

As a leading cause of death and disability, it isn’t surprising that stroke is a major concern for many older adults in the U.S. Because of its strong association with older adults, stroke often isn’t considered as a possible cause for health problems among the youngest of patients. But in fact, six out of every 100,000 U.S. children suffers a pediatric stroke and those rates have been increasing in recent years. Experts have included stroke among the 10 leading causes of childhood fatalities.

The statistics for perinatal stroke are even grimmer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one in every 3,000 live births is affected by perinatal stroke. These statistics are likely to be alarming for some parents, particularly those whose children who experienced birth trauma, which may lead to childhood stroke.

Understanding childhood stroke

When adults suffer a stroke, they are most likely to experience an ischemic stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is obstructed by a blood clot that either forms in that area, or forms in another area and travels in the bloodstream to the brain. Ischemic stroke typically occurs because of health issues such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat. Children do not commonly experience these health issues, however. They are about as likely to suffer an ischemic stroke as a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a weakened and bulging area of a blood vessel in the brain – called an aneurysm – bursts and bleeds onto the brain, damaging brain tissue.

Aside from ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, health experts classify childhood stroke according to when the child suffered the cardiovascular event. Perinatal stroke can afflict fetuses well before labor and delivery. A perinatal stroke is defined as a stroke that occurs anytime from the last 18 weeks of pregnancy through the first month after birth. When a stroke occurs after this timeframe, it is referred to as pediatric stroke.

Can childhood stroke be prevented?

When the long anticipated birth of a child reveals medical problems from birth trauma, parents often ask themselves if this tragic event could have been prevented. Often, the cause of stroke in a particular patient is difficult to identify. Sometimes, stroke occurs due to factors beyond the control of the parents and healthcare providers. For example, children with hemophilia are at an increased risk of suffering hemorrhagic stroke.

In other cases, perinatal and pediatric stroke could have been prevented; however, the lack of detection and appropriate medical treatment is not necessarily due to some fault of the parents. Rather, healthcare providers are responsible for providing competent and comprehensive prenatal care, newborn care, and pediatric care to safeguard the health of both mother and baby. Sometimes, medical malpractice can be linked to stroke in a child.

For example, when stroke afflicts an unborn child, it may have been caused by maternal health problems that an obstetrician failed to diagnose and treat. These can include certain infections, autoimmune disorders, coagulation disorders, or other blood disorders.

Stroke may also occur due to placental abruption, placental thrombosis, and placental infection. Another possible cause of perinatal stroke is birth asphyxia, which means the brain and other organs of the fetus do not receive adequate oxygen. For example, if the mother experiences a prolonged and difficult labor, and the healthcare provider fails to perform an emergency C-section in a timely manner to prevent injury, the baby is more likely to suffer from asphyxia and its related complications.

Cleveland Clinic, Pediatric Stroke: Treatment & Care – Dr. Friedman,
Medical News Today, Stroke: not just an adult's condition,