What I Wish People Knew About Strokes in Children

A stroke can happen among children of all ages.

The last time you heard a stroke story, it probably didn’t involve a healthy-seeming newborn or a fifth-grader who went to the nurse’s office with dizziness and a headache. It  wasn’t of a teenager who spent a “normal” day at school, only later in the evening to experience numbness down one side of their body. When you’ve never heard about stroke in children, it becomes easy to assume it must be very rare.

I work with families like these every day and hear their stories. I get to meet some of these children and see them overcoming challenges that most of us as adults, will never face. And on tough occasions I have the hardest conversations with a parent who has lost their child to stroke. It’s heartbreaking that awareness for children is too easily dismissed over the belief that it rarely happens.

When I shared about our own family’s journey with stroke and how our daughter survived at birth, I am often met with comments of  how rare that is or that children don’t have strokes.  I wish that were true. I know how many children need us to believe and to be educated. My hope is that we stop seeing stroke in children as rare and we start doing more about it. We start considering the possibility of stroke no matter a person’s age and we learn how to respond to it.

Please consider these facts:

  • Stroke occurs at the highest rate in infants younger than 1 month of age, effecting 1-3500 live births each year and nearly 1 per 20,000 children through age 18.
  • Stroke is as common as brain tumors in the pediatric population.
  • Stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death for children.
  • Studies have found that in the US, it can often take longer than 24 hours to diagnose stroke in children. Which is valuable time missed when every minute matters. Quick, proper treatment is critical to saving a child’s life and minimizing brain damage and lasting effects.

I couldn’t possibly make this information up even if I tried. But despite these published findings, pediatric stroke still falls off the radar. It’s not only parents who may not know the signs and symptoms of pediatric stroke – doctors can overlook them too. Too
often, children with stroke symptoms are misdiagnosed with more common conditions that mimic stroke, such as migraines, epilepsy or viral illnesses.  As long as the viewpoint continues to be that stroke in children is rare, the awareness is not heightened and a child in real need is overlooked.

Adults and children are not the same

Many of us know how to recognize when an adult is having a stroke, but the signs, symptoms and risk factors differ in children. There are over 100 different risk factors for pediatric stroke, none of them involving cholesterol levels or smoking. The reality that there are many more cases of stroke in adults does not dismiss the fact that the recognition of stroke in children is just as important and should be talked about. We have to get comfortable with talking about this.

I often get asked, “What can be done to keep pediatric stroke on the radar?” My simplest response is to get informed and share what you know. While it may not be your child, chances are, it will be someone’s child because the statistics are real. Moving away from “rare” to educated increases the chances of a child receiving a proper diagnosis and quicker treatment. Knowing the possibility of stroke in children saves lives. It’s as simple as that. Considering the possibility of stroke no matter a person’s age saves precious lives.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Stroke

To the Mom Whose Child Just Had Multiple Strokes

Dear old me, I see you sitting there in that room, reeling from the revelation as you stare at the MRI. “He has experienced multiple strokes in the left hemisphere of his brain… five actually.” I would like to impart some wisdom of what you have ahead of you. First of all, you are going to own [...]
Sleeping child and mother illustration

We Weren't Meant to Do This Alone

There are still days where the “new normal” of our life comes much easier than others. Days where I smile that we have somehow balanced the two worlds of everyday life and the intricate life in the medical needs world. Making the appointments that fill our weekly calendar and still managing to find the time to kiss my spouse, be [...]
Gracie and Michael.

To My Little Brother, Who Supported Me After My Stroke at Age 10

To my dear brother Michael, I want to thank you for being so supportive these last six years. I know when I got sick you might have felt abandoned by the family and others close to you. I’m sure those first few months when our parents were with me in the hospital were very confusing. [...]
Gracie Doran.

When I Was Told I May Never Dance Again After a Stroke at Age 10

When I was 6 years old, I was diagnosed with cavernous hemangiomas, a hereditary disease that causes weak veins in the brain. The veins can leak and cause a seizure or stroke. My doctors advised my parents that it was dangerous for me to play contact sports, so I took dance classes. I became a [...]