Is Your Child at Risk for Strokes?

Risk Factors, Warning Signs, and Effects of Strokes in Teens

It's a common belief that only older people can have strokes, but as with many adult medical conditions such as Parkinson's and heart attacks, teenagers can be affected too.

Strokes In Teenagers and Children

Although being older than 65 years puts a person at higher risk of having a stroke, it is possible to have one at any age. Approximately 6 in 100,000 children will suffer a stroke at some point between birth and adulthood, with 60% of cases affecting boys.

In adults the majority of strokes are ischemic strokes, meaning a blood clot has starved an area of the brain of oxygen. In children, a stroke is just as likely to be hemorrhagic, when a bleed has occurred inside the brain.

Teenage Stroke Risk Factors

In children the main risk factors for stroke involve an underlying medical condition, such as:

  • Sickle cell disease
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Disease affecting the arteries
  • Infection
  • Heart problems
  • Disorders involving head and neck

Recently researchers have expanded the list of stroke risk factors for teenagers to include those that historically were more commonly associated with adults:

Impact Of Teenage Strokes

Although the causes of stroke may be different for teenagers, the symptoms are the same, as are the longer lasting side effects.

One-Sided Weakness:

One side of the body may be left weak, as in hemiparesis, or totally paralyzed, as in hemiplegia.

This in turn can affect speech, mobility, and swallowing.

Cognitive Changes:

There may be some problems with memory, judgement and problem solving skills. Both the stroke itself, and the physical changes it causes, can lead to changes in personality, behavior and mood.

Life After Stroke

As with adult stroke victims, many teenagers will bounce back and make a full recovery.

Specially devised physiotherapy exercises will help strengthen the weakened side of the body, while specialist support groups can help with mental recovery from such a frightening ordeal.

During stroke rehabilitation, some adaptations may need to be made, to help the patient resume their day to day life. Until they are fighting fit again, a stair lift installed by specialty companies such as Acorn can make accessing an upstairs bedroom easier. Alternatively, they may benefit from having a ground floor room turned into a bedroom. As far as is practical, the family home needs to be adapted, to encourage independence.

For a teenager, it can be especially frustrating, that the independence from their parents they have eagerly anticipated for their whole childhood, has now been snatched away. The kindest thing to do is not perform everyday tasks for them, but to make the changes necessary to the home and family routine, to restore as much of that independence as possible. For teenagers, stroke recovery can be especially isolating.

They may not want to ask friends for physical help, so they may feel restricted in the activities they can join in with. Although there are some excellent stroke support groups throughout the country, teenage patients are unlikely to meet other children of a similar age through these, as teenage stroke is relatively rare.

Instead, it would be best to look for a specialist support group, that focuses on giving help to teenage stroke victims only.

Psychological Impact Of Teenage Stroke

The effect of stroke on mental health should always be carefully monitored, but this is especially true with teenage patients. It is common for them to feel angry, anxious and frustrated. Usually, these symptoms will begin to fade as the recovery progresses.

However, sometimes these symptoms can develop into a more serious depression or anxiety disorder. Depression can manifest itself as intense episodes of crying, a feeling of hopelessness, a withdrawal from social activities previously enjoyed, and struggling to find enjoyment in day-to-day life. Anxiety disorder causes a generalized feeling of fear and anxiety, which can occasionally become overwhelming.

As with the physical side effects of stroke, these symptoms need to be carefully monitored and managed by the patient's medical team.

Teenage stroke is uncommon but not unheard of. Support groups and medical practitioners trained in the needs of teenage stroke victims can help with both the physical and mental recovery process.

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