This article was contributed by Stroke Association

The Stroke Association is the UK's leading stroke charity. It delivers stroke services across the UK, campaign for better stroke care, invest in research and fundraise to expand its reach to as many stroke survivors as possible.

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Childhood stroke: what parents need to know

Image: Childhood Stroke Project Video

Around 400 children in the UK suffers a stroke every year. Here, Dr Anne Gordon on behalf of the Stroke Association, explains more.

Follow the links to find further information and support online

One of the most common misconceptions about stroke is that it only affects older people.  In fact, it happens to children and even babies. In the UK there are around 400 childhood strokes every year.

The Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health has published new online guidance for parents, carers and teachers explaining how to spot when a child is having a stroke and what to expect in terms of treatment and support.

It is essential reading because, when it comes to a stroke, every second counts.

Whatever age you are, the faster you get treated, the more of the brain you can save. Although childhood stroke is relatively rare, knowing how to recognise it and acting quickly can make a huge difference to a child’s chances of survival and recovery.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood flow in the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a bleed. The cells in the area of the brain that is deprived of blood can be damaged or die. This animation, created for children by Evelina London Children’s Hospital and the Stroke Association, explains what a stroke is and how it can affect people.  

How can you tell if a child is having a stroke?

Most children experiencing a stroke will exhibit signs highlighted in the FAST test:

Face: look at the person’s face and ask them to smile. Has their face fallen on one side?

Arms: ask the person to raise both of their arms. Are they unable to raise one arm?

Speech: ask the person to tell you their name, or say ‘hello’. Is their speech slurred?

Time: if you spot any of these signs, always call 999.

Sometimes children may have seizures or fits affecting one part of the body or occasionally a sudden severe headache. Many children affected by stroke will also have non-specific signs of illness; becoming less responsive, for example, or vomiting.

What are the effects of a stroke?

The new guidance emphasises the need for appropriate longterm support for children who have had a stroke and their families. The effects can last a lifetime, not only for the child but their loved ones too. 

‘Some consequences can be hidden, only becoming evident months or years afterwards’

The impact of a stroke on a child and their recovery can vary significantly, depending on which part of their brain has been damaged. Some consequences can be hidden, only becoming evident months or years afterwards.

It is impossible to predict the outcomes for a one-year-old child who has not yet learned how to walk or talk. Even if they appear to recover well, a child who has survived a stroke could experience less obvious challenges, such as difficulties in learning how to plan ahead, or struggling to manage their emotions.

Monitoring by healthcare professionals as children grow and develop after having a stroke is essential to meeting their needs. At any age, stroke can be devastating and leave families feeling very isolated. It is vital that parents, carers and teachers know that support is available and the new guidelines make it clear that children should be able to access rehabilitation, not just immediately after a stroke but also as their needs change long-term.  This may take place in a range of different settings, including their school.

Further reading

In an emergency

If you think your child has suffered a stroke (see the FAST test, above, for symptoms or click this link) don’t delay.

Call 999

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​May 2018

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