What Is Teenage Stroke?

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A stroke is when there is a lack of blood supply to a portion of the brain. Though most strokes occur in adults ages 65 and older, they can happen at any age. A stroke during the teenage years is uncommon but possible.

When strokes occur in children and teens it's usually due to certain underlying health conditions that increase their stroke risk. They face unique challenges after a stroke, as do their parents.

This article will share the common causes of stroke in teenagers, how it's treated, and how to cope during the recovery process.

Girl in hospital bed
KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Types of Stroke

There are three main types of strokes. All are possible in teens:

  • Ischemic stroke, the most common type in teens (and adults), is when an artery that supplies blood flow to the brain is blocked. This commonly happens due to a blood clot.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke is when an artery in the brain breaks or bursts and bleeds in the brain. This puts pressure on brain cells that damages them.
  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are sometimes referred to as "mini strokes," are when blood flow to the brain is blocked for short periods of time. TIAs typically last a maximum of five minutes and are considered warning signs of a future stroke.

Teenage Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms are the same in teens as they are in adults. The thing is that they may be more easily overlooked in younger people.

It is unusual for a teenager to have a stroke, so the possibility may not immediately come to mind when symptoms arise. In addition, teenagers might not complain about symptoms they are experiencing.

If a teen has any of the symptoms below, get medical attention right away:

  • Severe head pain
  • Vision changes
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble understanding
  • Unusual behavior
  • Decreased alertness
  • Trouble walking
  • Poor balance
  • Numbness
  • Any sudden change in physical or cognitive function

Causes

If a blood clot forms in or travels to the brain, it causes a stroke.

Certain underlying medical problems can predispose someone to blood clots and stroke. Teenagers who experience stroke often have one or more of these:

  • Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary condition that causes blood clots due to a process called sickling, or a change in the shape of red blood cells in response to physical stressors such as infection. About 10% of children with sickle cell experience a stroke.
  • Inborn blood vessel abnormalities such as brain aneurysms, (bulging blood vessels in the brain) and arteriovenous malformations (groups of abnormally connected vessels) may clot. These clots are more likely to burst, causing a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Heart disease or heart malformations can result in an irregular heartbeat, heart function problems, or heart attacks, all of which can lead to stroke.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension), if untreated, can disrupt blood vessels and may cause heart disease or stroke. Hypertension is not common in teenagers and is usually a sign of a medical illness, such as a hormonal imbalance.
  • Infections, especially severe ones, can disrupt the body's immune system and blood cells to such an extent that increased blood clotting and stroke may occur.
  • Hemophilia is a hereditary blood condition in which the ability for blood to clot is severely reduced, increasing the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Migraines rarely have anything to do with strokes. But teens who have related symptoms should have a medical evaluation to determine whether they are truly experiencing migraines or whether they are actually having TIAs.
  • Cancer increases the formation of blood clots due to changes in the body’s physiology. Clots are also as a possible consequence of some anti-cancer therapies.
  • High cholesterol is relatively uncommon in teens, but there are some metabolic disorders that can cause elevated blood cholesterol levels. This can lead to heart disease or affect the brain and its blood vessels (cerebrovascular disease).
  • Hormonal changes that occur due to use of hormone therapy, steroids, birth control pills, or during pregnancy can change blood vessel physiology and clotting functions, increasing the risk of stroke.
  • Head trauma, such as a concussion or other head injury, can trigger a disruption in the body that cause either ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes in young people.
  • Drugs and supplements may cause strokes at any age. The use of cigarettes, vaping products, energy drinks, caffeine pills, or illegal recreational drugs are all risk factors for stroke.

Regular health check-ups in teens can help detect, monitor, and manage any conditions that increase the risk of stroke.

Recap

When a teen suffers a stroke, it is usually due to medical conditions such as a blood disorder, heart condition, infection, or head injury. Medications or recreational drugs can also raise the risk of stroke.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a stroke, doctors will take a detailed medical history and run a series of tests that will include brain imaging scans to get a detailed look at the brain.

Tests may include:

Recap

Symptoms of a stroke in a teenager—severe head pain, sudden weakness, slurred speech, to name a few—warrant immediate medical attention. Brain imaging tests are important in diagnosing stroke.

Treatment

Treatment for stroke in a teen will depend on the type of stroke and any underlying conditions.

Treatments may include:

  • Blood thinners, also called anticoagulants, which are medications used to prevent blood clots from forming or getting larger
  • Thrombolytic medications, intravenous (IV) drugs given through a vein to dissolve blood clots
  • Antibiotics if there is an underlying bacterial infection
  • Anti-seizure medications, also known as anticonvulsants
  • Surgeries, such as to remove a clot, reduce pressure, or stop bleeding in the brain
  • Physical therapy to improve or regain movement and strength
  • Speech therapy to improve or regain verbal abilities
  • Occupational therapy to regain the ability to perform self-directed activities at home or work (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating)
  • Blood transfusions, particularly in those with sick cell anemia

A teen who has had a stroke may be referred to a physiatrist, a physician whose expertise is in physical medicine and rehabilitation. This professional can offer or coordinate a variety of therapies.

Coping

A stroke in the teenage years can be scary and life-altering, but teens do generally recover more abilities after a stroke than people who are older.

It can be helpful for both teens and their parents to connect with other teens and families during the recovery process.

The Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Association has a support community that hosts in-person and online groups and retreats, and offers therapeutic recommendations.

The American Stroke Association also has a finder tool to help you locate a stroke support group in your area or to find online resources and virtual support.

Recap

Treatments for stroke vary based on the cause of the stroke and its effects. Medications or surgery and rehabilitation therapies are often involved. Support groups for both teens and parents can help with navigating life after a stroke.

Summary

Stroke in teens is usually caused by medical conditions, such as blood or heart disorders, or drugs that increase the risk of stroke.

Symptoms of a stroke in teens can include severe head pain or sudden vision changes, weakness, confusion, or slurred speech. Teens experiencing symptoms should be evaluated without delay.

The recovery process often involves a series of therapies to try to improve or regain movement, speech, or cognitive abilities affected by the stroke.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to remember that prompt treatment and rehabilitation after a stroke can help a teenager achieve the best possible outcome after a stroke.

If symptoms occur but you're doubting whether or not they could be due to a stroke, don't. Seek medical attention.

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Article Sources
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