Pediatric strokes surprise parents

Stroke is commonly thought of as a concern only for older adults, but pediatric strokes annually affect 13 of every 100,000 U.S. children. In the St. Louis area, many of these patients are seen by Washington University specialists at the Pediatric Stroke Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Recognizing pediatric stroke is a tricky challenge for parents and physicians alike. Symptoms often are more subtle than those of adult patients and can include neck pain, energy loss, unusual behavior and difficulty with speech.

Michael Noetzel, MD, director of pediatric and developmental neurology, says that pediatric stroke often is associated with other disorders, including sickle cell anemia and viral infections such as chicken pox. But it also occurs in seemingly healthy children. The Pediatric Stroke Center is working to identify risk factors and potential risk reduction strategies.

If pediatric stroke patients are diagnosed and treated promptly, the prognosis for most is good, according to Noetzel. The developing brain of a child has more flexibility to adapt to and recover from injury. However, this also means physicians and parents have to monitor children carefully in the years following a stroke to ensure that the injury doesn’t hamper normal developmental processes.

“You know exactly what adults were capable of doing prior to the stroke and can monitor them as they hopefully get back to that level,” he says. “In pediatric patients, you not only want them to recover what they could do before, you also want them to continue maturing and developing.”

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