Twice as many children are suffering strokes than was previously believed, according to new findings by a Heart and Stroke Foundation and Canadian Stroke Network researcher who is one of Canada’s leading pediatric neurologists.
“We’re seeing double the numbers of stroke in general,” says Dr. Gabrielle deVeber, who will be chairing a session on Stroke in Children and Young Adults today at the 5th World Stroke Congress in Vancouver, B.C. “That’s for both ischemic stroke (blood flow in the brain interrupted by a clot) and haemorrhagic (bleeding into the brain from a ruptured blood vessel). It’s much more common than was previously recognized.”
Until recently, the incidence of both types of paediatric stroke was believed to be two to three per 100,000 children per year. Neurological experts now put the figure at five to six children per 100,000. The Canadian Pediatric Ischemic Stroke Registry, directed by Dr. deVeber since 1992, has found a doubling in the incidence of pediatric stroke over figures previously reported.
While less common than stroke in adults, childhood stroke has a big impact on society. The care required is life-long, over six or seven decades. The burden on the health care system is far greater, along with extra stress on the educational system and productivity lost to society. Dr. deVeber, a neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, is working with other neurologists to establish best practices for treating children with stroke.
“Treatments for these children are highly variable,” says Dr. deVeber. “It is very much a patchwork. What treatment a child receives depends on the physician and the hospital. Many children are only diagnosed several days after the beginning of their stroke.”
Dr. deVeber and other Canadian researchers are now leading the first international study of childhood stroke. Directed from the Hospital for Sick Kids, it involves an international registry of childhood stroke centres in the United States and United Kingdom.
“This study will give us the information we are missing: the numbers, stroke types and outcomes,” says Dr. deVeber. “And it will establish a network of investigators to actually do the trials. In order to get the numbers you need, the trials have to be multi-centre and multi-nation, so you have to go to several countries and create a network of investigators. We’re addressing that.”
Dr. Antoine Hakim, CEO and Scientific Director of the Canadian Stroke Network, says more study is needed into the causes of childhood stroke to prevent it from happening and limit the damage when it does. “This disease can rob children of their future and place a heavy burden on the families who must cope with the after-effects of stroke. We need to make sure our children get the best protection from stroke and the best care possible to restore their health.”
Dr. Dean Johnston, neurologist and Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson, says too many people believe the myth that stroke affects only seniors. “Stroke does not spare children, teenagers or younger adults. We need to bridge the gap in awareness to ensure children who suffer stroke get immediate care and comprehensive follow-up – everything they need so they can get back to enjoying their childhood.”