Kids Can Have Strokes Too, AHA Warns

"My husband and I were not doctors, but we knew a little bit and we knew something was wrong. As we were leaving the hospital, I just broke down," she said.

Her son had suffered a stroke at birth. Although interventions have helped him do many things with other children, Todd still has some balance problems, which crop up when he tries to climb or ride a bike — he will fall off frequently. And he wears a brace on his leg.

But overall, he is doing better than Anthony could have expected after his birth.

"He's doing fantastic. At the time, the doctors had told us he may not walk and he may not talk."

But Anthony doesn't want other parents to have the same fears she did.

"I am hoping that more people have an awareness of it. We struggled at birth to get our physician to do anything," she said. "We are very excited this is getting open so parents don't need to struggle like we did."

Signs Parents Should Watch For

Jordan said that the increased awareness these guidelines hope to create will reach not only physicians, but parents as well.

Several doctors expressed concern that while parents who would immediately rush to get assistance for an elderly relative who stops speaking or shows weakness on one side of the body, they will not do the same for a child — who may then suffer further strokes in the days before they receive medical attention.

"Sadly, sometimes the hours or the days that go by after that is the time when the actual strokes can take place," said Roach.

And pediatricians want parents to know that they should not waste time seeking help.

"If you think your child is having symptoms of stroke, in particular, they look weak on one side of their body, their speech is slurred, then you should bring them immediately to medical attention," said Jordan.

One warning sign, she said, is if a child shows strong signs of right- or left-handedness before they are a year old. Since children do not typically differentiate before then, she said, that is typically a sign of weakness on that side of the body.

Strokes are actually most common in children between conception and one month of age, a time known as the perinatal period.

Roach notes that adults do not have as great a stroke risk as perinatal infants until they reach age 65.

Critical Mass

Mary Kay Ballasiotes has high hopes for the AHA guidelines, not only to raise awareness of pediatric stroke, but also to increase research in the area.

"You're not going to do research unless the numbers are high enough to do that research," she said. "There are so many of them out there, and we really need to find out what is going on."

One of the benefits of these guidelines is that they not only give a comprehensive picture of childhood stroke, but also let physicians know which areas need further research, said Dr. Michael Noetzel, a pediatric neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis and medical director of clinical and diagnostic neuroscience services at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

"For those of us that stroke is a part of our daily practice, this is going to be a great resource for management of these kids," he said.

"The biggest impact is going to be … reducing morbidity once a stroke has been recognized," said Noetzel, but he also hopes that the guidelines help physicians identify children at risk to prevent those strokes in the first place.

Still, he cautions that parents need to be on the lookout for signs that something is wrong.

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