How Cardiomyopathy Affects A Child’s Stroke Risk

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In the cardiology world, we talk a lot about “heart attacks.” Unfortunately, people with heart conditions may also have a greater risk for stroke.

This potentially debilitating brain injury happens when a clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain (called an ischemic stroke) or when a weakened blood vessel ruptures (called a hemorrhagic stroke), according to the American Stroke Association. The latter is most commonly caused by high blood pressure.

If the abnormal blood flow lasts for more than a few seconds, brain cells begin to die from lack of blood and oxygen.

For adults, common causes of stroke include high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and irregular heartbeat, according to the National Stroke Foundation. However, in children, causes of stroke are different.

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Stroke affects roughly 6 in 100,000 kids in the United States, says the National Stroke Foundation. That includes everyone from unborn babies to teenagers. And unfortunately, kids with cardiomyopathy have a slightly greater risk of stroke than the general pediatric population.

Also read:

Cardiomyopathy: How to Explain Your Child’s Heart Condition

Cardiomyopathy and Your Child

Yet, not all cardiomyopathy kids have the same stroke risk. Activity level and heart function are important factors when assessing risk. A kiddo that is immobile—confined to a hospital bed —is more prone to developing a blood clot than a child who is able to run and play. Likewise, a child with a very weakened heart has a higher risk of developing a blood clot than a child whose pumping function is only slightly diminished.

What to Watch For

While adults are more likely to suffer a stroke as the result of a clot, kids experience strokes due to both causes—clots and burst vessels, according to the National Stroke Foundation.

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When our heart kiddos are at especially greater risk of stroke, we prescribe blood thinners. These medications could be anything from aspirin to more potent drugs.

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What Happens After Stroke?

One of the many fascinating things about kids is that their brains are remarkably elastic. If they suffer a stroke, they have a much better chance of recovering function than an adult.

I remember talking and laughing with one little boy who’d suffered a stroke. He was interacting as if the stroke had never happened. Looking at the scans of his brain, I’m still in awe of the progress he made.

Also read:

 Facts about Stroke in Children

Of course, recovery also depends on the area of the brain and the size of the blood vessel affected. No two strokes are the same; every situation is unique. One child’s stroke could affect her limbs and require months of physical therapy. Another might experience several small strokes, but maintain his ability to walk, talk, eat, and interact like any other child.

Omaha_HowCardioMyopathyAffectsAChildsStrokeRisk_04While the possibility of stroke is frightening, the most important thing to remember is that getting your child to the hospital quickly can make all the difference. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect your child is having a stroke.

As with heart attacks, time is everything when a stroke happens. Unfortunately, not all children recover fully from a stroke but with prompt medical attention, a good physical/occupational therapy regimen, and some TLC from you, you’re giving your child the best possible chance to recover.

Barb Roessner

Hi, I'm Barb, and I'm a Physician Assistant and coordinator of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I work with patients and families at every step of the journey, from diagnosing their child's heart condition to my favorite part—calling them to say "We have a heart."

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