Friday, August 1, 2008

Strokes Can Happen at Any Age

Many people believe that strokes only happen to senior citizens. My Mom had a stroke, and I remember a very nice neighbor of ours had a stroke a couple of years ago. She was also an older person. Recently, a press release came across my desk from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine which describes strokes happening in children. It was after reading this that I realized strokes are a lot more common than I had thought.

The material I read describes young Sideria Hendricks of Forest Park, Illinois, only 10 years old, who has already suffered from two strokes. The first occurred on Christmas Eve a few years ago. Sideria suddenly couldn't speak, and her left arm and left leg went limp. She eventually recovered, but later she suffered a second minor stroke.

This young lady has sickle cell disease, which is among the more than 100 risk factors for strokes in babies, children and young adults that Dr. Jose Biller, chairman of the department of neurology at Loyola University Health System,has identified in a new publication. Although strokes are among the top ten causes of death in childhood, family members and doctors often are slow to recognize the symptoms.

Biller is co-author of new guidelines for the prevention and treatment of strokes in infants and children. The guidelines are published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Strokes can occur at any age -- even before birth. According to conservative estimates, about 3,200 strokes occur each year in youths under age 18. And more than 3,000 people under age 45 die of strokes each year. This age group accounts for between 5 percent and 10 percent of all strokes. Survivors can experience lifelong learning disabilities, seizures, movement disorders, language problems, cognitive deficits and paralysis on one side of the body. Between 6 percent and 20 percent of children who have strokes die, and at least half are left with some degree of disability.

"The impact of strokes in this age group is devastating to the child or young adult, their families and society," Biller said.

In older adults, about 85 percent of strokes are "ischemic," meaning they are caused by blood clots. About 15 percent are caused by hemorrhages (bleeding). By contrast, nearly half of strokes in children are caused by hemorrhages. Causes of hemorrhagic strokes in children include malformations of blood vessels in the brain, illicit drug use (cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, hallucinogens, amphetamine look-alikes, etc.) systemic infections, brain tumors and blood disorders such as hemophilia and sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease can cause several different forms of stroke. For example, misshapen red blood cells can clog the flow of blood in the brain. To reduce the risk, Sideria receives blood transfusions every three weeks. The quicker a child or young adult is diagnosed and treated for a stroke, the better the outcome. But family members often are slow to recognize strokes. Symptoms can be more subtle in children. It's especially difficult to recognize symptoms in babies who have not begun to walk or talk.


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