Do strokes present differently in children?

Do strokes present differently in children?

The acronym BE FAST is used by people across the country to help assess someone who appears to be exhibiting stroke symptoms.

According to the American Heart Association, the acronym stands for:

  • Balance loss
  • Eyesight changes
  • Facial drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call 911

“While it does not diagnose a stroke, what BE FAST does is provide a simple way to think about whether or not someone could be having a stroke,” says Dr. Kay Jacobs, a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

We often think of adults when we think of strokes but could BE FAST also apply to children?

“At the end of the day, stroke is defined the same in a pediatric patient as it is in an adult – some type of acute neurologic change that is secondary to a change in the brain. So yes, BE FAST does apply to pediatric strokes,” says Dr. Jacobs.

Most pediatric strokes occur in the neonatal population shortly after birth. However, strokes can occur in children at any age for a variety of reasons. This includes congenital heart disease, blood clots, abnormal valves, sickle cell disease and vascular diseases. According to Dr. Jacobs, the symptoms are typically acute and have a sudden onset.

So, what should parents watch for?

“Watch for whether your child stops using one side of their body, if they are having an acute change in their speech, if they’re starting to drool or are having memory changes. Look for anything that you feel is different from how they were earlier in the day,” Dr. Jacobs explains.

She adds that even in infants who are not yet speaking, a change in their babbling could also be indicative of the traditional change in speech you often think of that is associated with stroke.

There are signs of stroke that may present in children but are not typically seen in adults, like headaches or seizures. Dr. Jacobs explains that these headaches are not the kind that go away with Tylenol and water.

“You know your child best, so take note of any changes you recognize. If any of those symptoms occur, even as one isolated thing, it should be assessed by a medical professional for further testing and evaluation just as much as if multiple symptoms were happening at once,” Dr. Jacobs says.

When it comes to BE FAST, the “T” may be last, but it certainly is not least.

“The most important part is the timeframe because we want to move quickly. If symptoms do occur, think about the last time you saw your child in their normal state and take note of that because that’s important for us to know as providers,” says Dr. Jacobs.

If you notice your child exhibiting any signs of stroke, call 911 or bring them to the nearest emergency room.

Want to learn more about your own risk for stroke? Take a free online quiz.

Related Posts


Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Lee Batsakis
Lee Batsakis

Lee Batsakis, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Children’s Hospital. She graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in public relations and has worked in health care since 2013. Outside of work, she enjoys reading, exercising, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.