Stroke in Children: What You Need to Know

Henry Hoffman
Thursday, April 27th, 2017
Last modified on September 16th, 2022

Stroke in Children-blog

A stroke can happen to anyone. Essentially, it is an attack in the brain. When it happens, blood flow to a certain part of the brain is suspended, cutting parts of it off from oxygen and quickly killing brain cells.

It is a common misconception that only older adults can suffer from stroke, but the truth is that it can happen at any time to a person of any age. Knowing how devastating this affliction can be, it is crucial to understand that teenagers, children, and infants are not excluded.


A child’s greatest chances of having a stroke are during the first year of life. Those odds will decrease over time, but a stroke is still the sixth leading cause of death for children. With a statistic that high, being able to recognize the different types and early warning signs of a stroke will prevent a loved one or someone you know from serious injuries in the future.

Types of Pediatric Stroke

Arterial Ischemic Stroke (AIS)

AIS occurs when blood flow within the artery is interrupted. Blood clots or a tapering of arterial muscles prevents circulation, which then causes severe damage to the brain.

Cerebral Sinovenous Thrombosis (CSVT)

CSVT is caused by a blockage in the brain that prevents blood from draining. This happens because a blood clot forms within the brain’s venous system (network of veins), which leads to brain injury or disabled brain function. There is a possibility that the blockage may disappear without inflicting serious damage, but its presence has the potential to cause AIS or an intracranial hemorrhage if not caught in time.

Intracranial Hemorrhage

An Intracranial hemorrhage takes place when the arteries and blood vessels that transfer blood between the heart and the brain burst or become too weak to function. The bleeding within the brain from damaged muscles is what causes the stroke, leading to brain injury.

Common Risk Factors in Children

With the average adult, common risk factors for a stroke include high blood pressure, an inconsistent heartbeat, and a thickening of arterial muscles; these are not normal for children to experience. Familiar issues that cause a child to have a stroke are quite different and include:

Cardiovascular Disease

1-Cardiovascular Disease

This is the leading cause of childhood stroke, making up a third of all AIS cases. Cardiovascular Disease is any heart condition that deals with damaged blood vessels, structural integrity, and blood clots. For children, this could mean any kind of heart complication or surgery that happened after birth, such as

  • cyanotic lesions causing a transposition of the great arteries, when large vessels carrying blood from the heart to the lungs are not properly connected or are switched;
  • thromboembolism, which involves blood clots that detach and obstruct another spot in circulation; or
  • cerebral infarcts, the cell death of tissue in the brain from poor blood supply.

Sickle-Cell Disease (SCD)

2-Sickle-Cell Disease

A highly common cause of pediatric stroke, SCD is identified in 285 cases for every 100,000 children affected. SCD is a serious hereditary form of anemia, the deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin, resulting in an extreme susceptibility to stroke.

Abnormal Blood Clotting

3-Abnormal Blood Clotting

Commonly referred to as thrombophilia, abnormal blood clotting is a condition where blood is more disposed to forming clots. And, of course, frequent blood clots increase the chances of childhood stroke considerably.

Head or Neck Trauma

4-Head or Neck Trauma

Since children are constantly moving and playing around, being aware of head or neck injuries of any kind can make a huge difference in preventing childhood stroke. Those who have experienced any kind of serious head or neck trauma put themselves at risk of initiating poor blood flow to certain organs or parts of the body. Damage caused by minor surgeries, hyperextended limbs or joints, car crashes, and athletic sports all contribute to increased stroke risk.



How the vessels in the brain experience inflammation is not clearly defined, but it is suggested that autoantibodies and white blood cells may attack vessels within the body, which causes swelling and damage. Once blood vessels become compromised, the likelihood of a stroke occurring increases. Central Nervous System Vasculitis (CNS Vasculitis) is an inflammation of the blood vessel walls within the brain and spine—a serious, life-threatening issue on its own.



Bacterial infections, like meningitis and HIV, may also be a direct cause of heart diseases contributing to AIS. Another infection to be aware of among children that increases the risk of stroke is post-varicella angiopathy (a rare complication of chickenpox), with the risk being at its greatest during the first year of being infected.

Additional Causes

7-Additional Causes

Brain tumors, aneurysms, iron-deficiency anemia, and medications all have the potential to increase the risk of childhood stroke.


The biggest problem with identifying symptoms of childhood stroke is that infants and children are improperly diagnosed. More often than not, children with stroke symptoms are matched with more common illnesses that imitate a stroke, like viruses, migraines, and epilepsy. In other cases, stroke symptoms may not appear until later. The best thing to do is to consult with a healthcare professional about all possible outcomes, and ask them to specifically check for early warning signs of childhood stroke. In addition to thorough checkups, there are certain symptoms to look out for that may represent a potential risk.

Symptoms Specific to Newborns and Infants

Check to see if your newborn or infant has a tendency to only use one side of their body. This behavior could indicate a potential problem with the nervous system. An excess amount of sleep is normal for healthy growth, but extreme sleepiness could represent a weakness of the body. Lastly, if your newborn or infant has experienced seizures, they are highly susceptible to the possibility of having a stroke.

Symptoms Specific to Children and Teens

Since children and teens are more developed, symptoms of stroke are easier to identify. If your child or teen experiences trouble walking or moving one side of the body, a numbness of the face, leg, or arm on a particular side, issues with speaking or comprehending simple instructions, massive headaches, poor balance, dizziness, drowsiness, consistent vomiting, or seizures, then consulting with a healthcare professional for immediate treatment is recommended to prevent a stroke from happening.

Watch for Warning Signs

Noticing the early warning signs of stroke among children can save lives. Compared to older adults, younger people who suffer from a stroke show a better result of recovery because their brains heal and regenerate faster, but experiencing a stroke is still devastating. It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of victims who suffer from a stroke will deal with disability for the rest of their lives.

To prevent this from happening, the best thing that you can do is be aware and alert of the way your infant, child, or teen is acting. Ask them how they are feeling, and schedule regular check-ups for them with a healthcare professional who specializes in pediatric care. The more precautions you take, the lower their risk will be.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.

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