Do you know the signs of a stroke in a child?

When you imagine a stroke patient, a young person probably doesn't come to mind. However, while uncommon, children and teens do suffer from strokes and knowing the signs and symptoms is critical to protecting their health.

Time is critical and we need to move quickly if we suspect a stroke.

A stroke results in an acute neurological change. The most common signs in children and teens are a change in vision, drooping face, arm weakness, slurred speech, an extreme headache and seizure. Of those pediatric stroke patients at Advocate Children's Hospital, 40% had weakness on one side of the body, 23% had a facial droop and 10% had an extreme headache.

Unfortunately, young children often can't express what symptoms they're experiencing. Rather than say they have a headache, they might be lethargic or extremely tired all day or have intense bouts of vomiting.

The biggest thing you can do as a parent is to trust your instinct. You know your child better than anyone else. Kids get sick, they have stomach aches, they have mild headaches, and all those things are normal, but when you notice this is just well out of the range of normal, or they aren't acting like themselves and your gut says something just is not right, come to the hospital.

Once you bring your child to the hospital for an acute neurological change, they'll be evaluated by an emergency care provider. At Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, the provider will activate a pediatric stroke alert if they suspect a stroke, mobilizing the hospital's pediatric stroke response team.

Expect a fast pace and a lot of people to respond in the event there is a concern of a stroke when you take your child to the emergency department.

The stroke response team consists of a pediatric emergency room physician, pediatric critical care physician, stroke advanced care provider, neurologist, neuro-interventionalist, emergency or critical care nurse, child life specialist, and, in some cases, a chaplain.

They'll evaluate your child and do imaging scans such as an MRI to determine if a stroke has occurred. If it has, they'll discuss interventions that could include a procedure to remove a clot causing the stroke or admitting your child to the pediatric ICU and using blood thinners to help move blood around the blockage.

There is a high likelihood that our imaging will not be positive for a stroke. It could be a complex migraine, a mass, or some other structural change in the brain, but in the chance that it could be a stroke, we must move fast because we know once we miss our window, it could be detrimental to the patient.

• Children's health is a continuing series. Dr. Nekaiya Jacobs is a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children's Hospital. To check out more information, visit

Dr. Nekaiya Jacobs, a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children's Hospital.
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