Strokes in children, also known as pediatric strokes, are uncommon, affecting approximately 6 in 100,000 children. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is a leading cause of death for children in the U.S., and the risk factors for strokes can be different for children than for adults.
But could having the common cold increase a child’s stroke risk? Some experts believe this may be the case; previous research has suggested a link between common inflammatory conditions like colds and stroke in adults, and it appears the same risk is present for children. Until now, inflammatory conditions and their link to stroke has not been the subject of extensive study for children.
Children and pediatric stroke
Unlike adults, children suffer from hemorrhagic strokes as often as they have ischemic strokes, while adults are more likely to have ischemic strokes. Children do share a set of risk factors for stroke with adults (diseases of the arteries, cardiac disorders, head and neck disorders, etc), but evidence shows the most common reasons children suffer strokes include: high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cholesterol-related disorders, tobacco use and alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, because strokes are not often associated with children, the warning signs often get dismissed by parents and guardians.
But children who meet some of the above risk factors aren’t the only ones in danger of having a stroke. The new research suggests children with common infections like a cold have a 12 times greater risk for stroke within a three day period post-illness. Of those infections contributing to pediatric stroke, the majority–80 percent–were linked to respiratory ailments.
“We’ve seen this increase in stroke risk from infection in adults, but until now, an association has not been studied in children,” said study author Dr. Heather Fullerton as reported by MNT. “It is possible that inflammatory conditions contribute more to the stroke risk in children, however, further research is needed to explore this possible association.”
Fullerton and colleagues remind parents, however, that pediatric strokes in children are still considered very rare, and the increased risk from the common cold is short-lived. All the same, parents with children who have recently come down with infectious symptoms should also be on the lookout for these stroke symptoms:
- Seizures, especially in newborns
- Worsening or sudden headaches
- Sudden difficulty speaking, slurring of words or trouble understanding speech
- Hemiparesis, or a weakness on one side of the body
- Sudden loss of vision or abnormal eye movements
- Sudden loss of balance or trouble walking
Recovery for children who suffer a pediatric stroke may come more easily than for adults who have issues, but the repercussions are often the same.
“Children usually recover better than adults do because their brains are still growing. However, children can experience permanent complications from stroke, such as seizures, weakness and vision problems. Seizures are closely related to pediatric stroke and can become a continuing issue after a stroke” states the National Stroke Association. “About 15 percent of seizures in newborns are secondary to stroke. In general, risk of recurrent pediatric stroke is low. However, children who have seizures often have a greater difficulty recovering.”