Infant Stroke Study Points to Importance of Prevention

Unfortunately, it is common to hear about strokes happening to adults. However, strokes also happen to newborn infants, and far too often. And now, a recent study is demonstrating showing just how often it happens, even as it provided even more hope that infant strokes may be quite preventable.

The new study, produced by the University of Minnesota and released last month, shows that one in every 2,300 infants suffer from a stroke or bleeding in the brain. Not only is stroke among the top ten causes of childhood deaths, but it is also a major cause of long-term disabilities, which can lead to lifelong physical disability, speech or learning disabilities or even seizures.

Better Treatment and Prevention

This study examined the brains of infants who suffered a stroke at or near the time of birth. The hope is that this research will lead to better prevent or at least treat the infant victims of stroke, and the aftermath, which can sometimes be as serious as cerebral palsy. The primary diagnosis for cerebral palsy is a stroke during the birthing process. Other problems believed to stem from an infant stroke are chronic pain, vision problems, and intellectual challenges. Researchers also monitored newborn infants using an MRI and non-invasive brain stimulation. The hope is that doctors will discover even better ways to identify and treat stroke in both infants and adults. By learning more, they hope to be able to diagnose stroke much more quickly, which would allow them to restore blood flow to the brain, thus minimizing the effects of the stroke.

There are two main types of strokes affecting both adults and infants. An ischemic stroke occurs when plaque buildup or a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke, which is far more common, occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. Roughly half of children who suffer a stroke are found to have blood vessel abnormalities in the brain, while another quarter has congenital heart defects, such as a hole in the heart. Unfortunately, for the rest of newborns who suffer a stroke, the cause is unknown.

Infant strokes often occur in tandem with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE, a medical term referring to a prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain), or physical trauma. Treatment and rehabilitation must be started immediately, in order to prevent the damage from spreading, including IV fluids and blood thinners. This is how doctors can prevent a stroke recurrence. It is also important to begin hypothermia treatment immediately, to slow down the damage and help the brain heal. In short, quick medical attention is critical after an infant stroke, so as to stave off permanent brain damage and conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Quick Action by Doctors is Key

That said, even with prompt recognition and management of a stroke, some babies still develop cerebral palsy, which often occurs when the baby is in distress and the physician doesn’t deliver the child quickly enough via an emergency cesarean section. A stroke diagnosis that is made four or five days late is always very harmful to a baby because such treatment must start immediately. When an initial stroke is not recognized or is misdiagnosed, the baby is at a higher risk of having seizures, which can often be difficult to recognize, which can lead to further brain injury.

Many possible events that can occur during or near the time of delivery that can cause the baby to have a stroke. It is very important for a mother and baby to be closely monitored during labor and delivery and doctors must act with skill and care in handling the conditions associated with a stroke. Because early diagnosis and treatment of a stroke are critical, among the tests that are commonly used to diagnose a stroke include the following:

  • CT scan (computed tomography). This type of test uses X-rays and computers to produces useful images of the brain.
  • CTA (computed tomography angiography). This test uses X-rays to examine specific arteries in the brain.
  • Cranial ultrasound tests create an image of the brain, using high-frequency sound waves that bounce off organs and create an image of the brain.
  • A Lumbar puncture is a procedure that collects cerebrospinal fluid in order to diagnose a possible stroke.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This type of test uses magnets, radio waves, and computer technology to produce an accurate image of the brain, to see the potential damage.
  • MRA (magnetic resonance angiography). This is a type of MRI that looks closely at specific arteries located in the brain.
  • MRV (magnetic resonance venography). This type of MRI looks closely at specific veins in the brain.

Hypothermia treatment, which refers to brain and body cooling to just below the normal body temperature, has been demonstrated beneficial in reducing many of the risks associated with a baby suffering a stroke, especially if they develop HIE, as well. Hypothermia treatment is given for 72 hours, but it must be started within 6 hours of the event that caused the stroke and/or HIE. The treatment should be initiated sooner, if the stroke or HIE were more severe. Prompt treatment can prevent many of the symptoms of a stroke, including cerebral palsy. New parents should be diligent in monitoring the condition of their infant child and, if they show signs of possible stroke or HIE, they should hire a personal injury lawyer and conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances. Quite often, strokes happen due to medical malpractice and families should be aware of their rights under the law in such cases.

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