Researchers are calling for clear guidelines on childhood stroke after a study, published in the November issue of Acta Paediatrica, found wide variations in time lag to diagnosis, investigation and treatment.
They are also keen to see the development of appropriate rehabilitation services, after a follow-up study found that 85% of the children who survived a stroke had neurological dysfunction or limitations.
Dr Sten Christerson studied the records of all children who had experienced their first stroke over a seven-year period in the Uppsala-Orebro Health Care Region, which covers a fifth of the Swedish population.
He found that risk factors included the combined effects of oral contraceptives plus smoking or anaemia and that having a stroke had a significant effect on most of the children's everyday lives and performance and impacted on the whole family.
"The aim of the study was to evaluate the incidence, presenting symptoms and signs, time lag to diagnosis, medical investigations, risk factors and short-term outcomes of childhood stroke" says Dr Christerson from the Centre for Rehabilitation Research and the Paediatric Clinic at Orebro University Hospital. A second paper in the journal, also co-authored with Dr Bo Stromberg, charts the long-term outcomes of the children the researchers identified during the initial study.
"Childhood stroke is defined as a cerebrovascular event occurring between 28 days and 18 years of age" explains Dr Christerson. "Studies in Europe and the United States have found that childhood stroke affects between 2.1 to 13 children per 100,000 a year and we found an incidence of 1.8. Although childhood stroke is not as common as many other childhood illnesses, it is a serious condition that results in considerable long-term ill health and severe functional disabilities."
Fifty-one children - 23 boys and 28 girls - were identified from the records and 46 of the 47 children who survived were followed up 1.6 to 8.6 years later (median: 4.2 years) to determine the long-term effects of their stroke. The researchers were unable to trace one patient and four had died, two during the acute stage and two later.
Key findings from the initial study included:
The total time lag to diagnosis was long and treatment varied:
Ongoing health problems were very common:
"Stroke in children is a serious condition that results in considerable long-term ill health and severe functional disabilities" concludes Dr Christerson. "In our study 8% of the children died and 85% of the survivors were left with neurological dysfunctions or limitations.
"Clear guidelines are needed to provide more consistent diagnosis and treatment of childhood stroke and our study also highlights the need for long-term rehabilitation services. It also raises real concerns about young girls who take oral contraceptives and also smoke or have iron deficient anaemia. We feel that it is important to check anaemia levels before prescribing oral contraceptives, prescribing iron tablets as required, and stress the risks that smoking poses."