What is stroke?

A stroke is a sudden, unexpected interruption in the brain’s blood supply.

Stroke in children can cause long-term problems with movement, speech and other things that the brain controls. It can also cause changes in behaviour, learning difficulties or epilepsy.

Stroke in babies and children is uncommon. It affects around 1 in 2000 babies and is even less common in older children.

Causes of stroke

A stroke is caused by a blockage in the veins or arteries into the brain, or by blood leaking from those veins and arteries. This can cause a change in blood supply to the brain, which damages brain cells. This can affect movement, speech or other functions that the brain controls.

Children have different risk factors for stroke than adults.

Babies can be at risk of stroke if they have blood clotting problems or have had an infection. Children can be at risk of stroke if the blood vessels supplying their brain are inflamed or poorly formed.

Other risk factors include particular types of heart problems and some underlying medical conditions.

Signs and symptoms of stroke

The causes of stroke in children might be different from those in adults, but the signs and symptoms are the same.

Strokes can happen very suddenly. If you can recognise the signs and symptoms and respond quickly, you can start treatment as soon as possible.

The best way to remember the signs of stroke is to remember the acronym FAST:

  • F – face dropping
  • A – arm weakness
  • S – speech difficulty
  • T – time to call 000.

Other signs of stroke in children include:

  • sudden severe headache
  • sudden balance problems or difficulty walking
  • sudden difficulty seeing
  • weakness down one side of the body, which can seem like a difficulty with balance
  • brief loss of vision
  • convulsions.

When to see a doctor

If your child has any of the above symptoms, call 000 immediately. Tell the operator that you think your child is having a stroke.

Tests for stroke

Doctors diagnose stroke with MRI or CT scans on the brain.

Other tests to find out the cause of the stroke might include an ultrasound of the heart or tests to check clotting of the blood.

Treatment for stroke

Treatment depends on the type of stroke a child has had.

In children with strokes caused by a blockage in the arteries or veins, treatment might include blood-thinning medication such as aspirin or warfarin. In children with strokes caused by a leaking blood vessel, treatment might include brain surgery to stop the bleeding.

Children often need specialised rehabilitation to get better after a stroke, regardless of the type of stroke they’ve had.

If your child has had a stroke, you and your child might work with some or all of the following health professionals: