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March 20, 2017

CHOP study warns headaches are more common indicator of stroke among children

Stoke doesn't just affect adults

A study led by a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that a headache is more likely to indicate the onset of a stroke in a child than an adult.

According to the study author Dr. Lori L. Billinghurst, children are far more likely than adults to report headaches when having a stroke. While strokes are often associated with older individuals, they also occur in 12 of every 100,000 children under the age of 18. 

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“Stroke should be considered as a possible diagnosis in any child with a headache and additional symptoms of weakness or numbness [in the face, arm, or leg] or changes in walking, talking, or vision,” Billinghurst said. “Urgent brain imaging may be required to distinguish a migraine with aura from a stroke.”

Billinghurst, who in addition to working at CHOP also serves a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, presented the study's findings last month at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2017.

The research included 355 participants between the ages one month and 18 years old who had strokes, and it was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Of the children in the study who were older than 3, nearly half reportedly indicated experiencing headaches prior to the onset of the stroke.

Billinghurt said it is important to note that a headache, numbness or weakness reported by a child doesn't necessarily mean he or she has had, or is at risk for having, a stroke.

She noted one of difficulties with the study's finding is that young children may not have been able to communicate if they were having a headache. Also, she and fellow researchers concluded that the presence of headache in stroke victims wasn't enough to determine the cause of a diagnosed stroke.

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