Nurses have been urged to familiarise themselves with the signs of stroke in children, after experts found lack of awareness among health professionals was causing potentially harmful delays in diagnosis and treatment.
The call comes with the publication of new guidelines for treating childhood stroke from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Stroke Association.
“Whatever age you are when stroke strikes, quick diagnosis is vital”
Swift action is vital when it comes to treating strokes in both children and adults.
However, the team who put together the new guidance found a lack of awareness – even among healthcare professionals – that children could be affected, increasing the risk of severe and long-term damage.
“Far too few people realise that a child can have a stroke, which means diagnosis and treatment can take longer than for older patients,” said Stroke Association chief executive Juliet Bouverie.
“Whatever age you are when stroke strikes, quick diagnosis is vital,” she said.
While stroke in children is much less common than in adults, it is a “devastating childhood illness” that has a permanent impact on most children affected, added paediatric neurologist Dr Vijeya Ganesan.
The guidance – titled Stroke in Childhood – includes specific guidelines for clinicians on how to diagnose and manage stroke in children and young people.
In particular, the document, which updates previous guidance, stresses that any child suspected of having a stroke should be scanned within an hour of arriving at hospital.
As with adults, the FAST test, which pinpoints weakness in the face or one side of the body and difficulty with speech as key warning signs, can be used to detect stroke in children as most will present with one of these symptoms.
Juliet Bouverie Director of Services and Influencing at Macmillan Cancer Support
However, some children may not show any of the FAST indicators and instead present with vomiting, seizures or severe and unusual headaches. The guidance said stroke should not be ruled out in these circumstances.
For the first time, the guidelines also set out the criteria for using thrombectomy and thrombolysis for child stroke victims – so-called “clot busting” treatments routinely considered for adults.
As well as dealing with acute care, the guidance covers rehabilitation and long-term care from the initial period in hospital to going back home, returning to school and important periods of transition in young people’s lives.
The guidance for clinicians comes with a version for parents and carers to help ensure families are fully informed and know what to expect.