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Childhood stroke

Childhood stroke: How often do children have strokes?

Every year about two children in every 100,000 will have a stroke. Strokes can occur in all age groups – from newborns to older teenagers. Sometimes strokes occur in babies before they are born with an estimate of one newborn in every 2,300 – 5,000 having a stroke.

What causes stroke in children?

The causes of childhood stroke are poorly understood with little published research. All strokes, regardless of age, are a result of disruption of blood going to or from the brain resulting in brain cells in the area dying and permanent damage potentially occurring.

The reason for this disruption may be different for children and adults. A number of medical conditions can increase the chance of your child having a stroke. These include:
  • Some types of heart disease or heart surgery
  • Abnormal or inflamed blood vessels in the brain
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Low blood count
  • Central venous catheters
  • Some types of cancer
  • Recent major infections around the ear sinuses or nose
  • Some viral infections (for example research has shown that chickenpox may cause ischaemic stroke in children)
  • Head injury
  • Dehydration
  • Prolonged low blood pressure
  • Brain tumours
  • Other conditions such as sickle cell disease and thalassaemia

About a quarter of all children who have had a stroke do not have any of these risk factors. It is unknown why these children have strokes. The cause of stroke in newborns is usually unknown.

Risk factors include pregnancy complications, difficulties at birth, blood clotting disorders and heart problems.

Discuss with your doctor your child’s risk factors and the potential causes of the stroke.

Resources

•  Childhood Stroke fact sheet
•  Childhood Stroke booklet