Teenage Stroke

Teenage stroke is not particularly common. The most common stroke age group is adults over the age of 65. Young children with certain health problems and pregnant women can experience a small increase in stroke risk. But teens are a whole different story. Not only is stroke less common in the teen years, but also this is an age in which everything, even a completely normal life, is challenging for teens and their parents.

Learn more about the nuts and bolts of teenage stroke as well as how teens can cope after a stroke.

The Most Common Causes of Teenage Stroke

Teenagers who experience stroke often have one or more of these underlying medical problems that can predispose to blood clots and stroke.

  • Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary blood condition that causes blood clots due to a process called 'sickling,' or a characteristic change in the shape of red blood cells in response to physical stresses such as infection. These blood clots can form anywhere in the body, and if the blood clots form in the brain or travel to the brain, they cause a stroke.
  • Inborn blood vessel abnormalities such as brain aneurysms or arteriovenous malformations may clot, causing an ischemic stroke, but are more likely to burst, causing a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Heart disease or heart malformations can result in an irregular heartbeat, heart function problems or heart attacks, all of which can lead to stroke. Inborn heart disease is generally diagnosed at a very early age, but teenagers need to have regular health check ups to detect and manage these types of problems.
  • Hypertension is not very common in teenagers, and it is usually a sign of a medical illness such as a hormonal imbalance. Untreated hypertension can disrupt blood vessels and may cause heart disease or strokes.
  • Infections, especially severe infections, can disrupt the body's immune system and blood cells to such an extent that increased blood clotting, resulting in a stroke, may occur. The best way to protect against serious infections is to stay up to date on immunizations.
  • Migraines rarely have anything to do with strokes. But teens who suffer from migraines experience a slightly higher rate of stroke, and should have a thorough medical evaluation to determine whether the migraines are truly just benign migraines or whether they are, in actuality, TIAs.
  • Cancer increases the formation of blood clots due to changes in the body’s physiology and also as a consequence of some anti-cancer therapies.
  • High cholesterol is relatively uncommon in teens, but there are some inborn metabolic disorders that can cause elevated blood cholesterol levels, which can in turn lead to heart disease or cerebrovascular disease, increasing the chances of a stroke.
  • Hormone therapy, steroid use, birth control pills and pregnancy all change the body’s hormones, blood vessel physiology and blood clotting functions, increasing the risk of stroke.
  • Head trauma, concussions or other severe trauma trigger a disruption in the body, which can cause either ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes in young people.
  • Drugs can cause strokes at any age. The use of cigarettes, energy drinks, caffeine pills or illegal recreational drugs are all huge risk factors for stroke.

Symptoms

It is unusual for a teenager to have a stroke. Teenagers might not complain about symptoms. If your teen has any of the symptoms below, he or she should get medical attention right away.

  • Severe head pain
  • Vision changes
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble speaking
  • Trouble understanding
  • Unusual behavior
  • Decreased alertness
  • Trouble walking
  • Poor balance

A stroke in the teenage years is life altering. Learn more about how parents and teenagers can get help and support. Rehabilitation after a stroke can help a teenager achieve the best outcome possible to lead a happy, healthy and productive life.

Sources

Is migraine a risk factor for pediatric stroke? Gelfand AA, Fullerton HJ, Jacobson A, Sidney S, Goadsby PJ, Kurth T, Pressman A, Cephalgia, March 2015

Antithrombotic therapy for secondary stroke prevention in bacterial meningitis in children, Boelman C, Shroff M, Yau I, Bjornson B, Richrdson S, deVeber G, MacGregor D, Moharir M, Askalan R, The Journal of Pediatrics, October 2014

Controlled trial of transfusions for silent cerebral infarcts in sickle cell anemia, DeBaun MR, Gordon M, McKinstry RC, Noetzel MJ, White DA, Sarnaik SA, Meier ER, Howard TH, Majumdar S, Inusa BP, Telfer PT, Kirby-Allen M, McCavit TL, Kamdem A, Airewele G, Woods GM, Berman B, Panepinto JA, Fuh BR, Kwiatkowski JL, King AA, Fixler JM, Rhodes MM, Thompson AA, Heiny ME, Redding-Lallinger RC, Kirkham FJ, Dixon N, Gonzalez CE, Kalinyak KA, Quinn CT, Strouse JJ, Miller JP, Lehmann H, Kraut MA, Ball WS Jr, Hirtz D, Casella JF, New England Journal of Medicine, August 2014

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