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Cold and Flu can Increase Risk of Stroke in Children

Update Date: Aug 21, 2014 11:58 AM EDT

A common cold and the flu can lead to a rare but dangerous situation for young children. According to a new study, the cold, the flu and other minor infections can increase children's risk of stroke for a certain period of time.

"It seems infections play a role in causing a stroke in those who are somehow predisposed to the problem," Dr. Heather Fullerton, lead author of the study and a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital said according to Philly. "A stroke is just one rare but bad possible complication of an infection."

To estimate the risk, the researchers analyzed data on 2.5 million children. Out of this large sample, around 100 children had suffered from an ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel has an obstruction that prevents the blood from flowing to the brain. The researchers compared this group of children to around 300 children who did not suffer from a stroke. The team did not look into children who had a major infection, such as meningitis or sepsis.

The researchers discovered that the children who suffered from a stroke were 12 times more likely to have been to the doctors within three days of the stroke due to minor infection. 80 percent of these infections were categorized under upper respiratory infections, which included colds and flu. Although the researchers could not identify what caused the children's stroke risk to increase, experts theorized that it might have to do with the body's inflammatory response to an infection.

"Infections trigger activation of platelets [blood cells responsible for clotting], making them more prone to clotting," Dr. Lars Marquardt commented. Dr. Marquardt wrote an accompanying editorial to this study that was published in the journal, Neurology.

The researchers estimated that the death risk from a stroke for children ranges from five to 10 percent. Children who survived strokes can have negative side effects. The team estimated that one-third of them could have a severe disabling outcome, another third can had an evident problem, and the remaining one third can have small or no problems at all. Children who already have other health conditions, such as cardiac disease or sickle cell anemia, have an increased risk of stroke caused by minor infections. Fullerton added that the stroke risk did not last. Once the infection was gone, the children no longer had an increased risk of stoke.

Fullerton stressed that parents should be educated about stroke symptoms in children. Signs of a stroke include seizures, headaches, sudden difficulty with speaking, weakness on one side of the body, and/or sudden loss of vision or balance.

"Some parents bring their child to the emergency department saying, 'I think my child is having a stroke' and are told that strokes don't happen to kids," she said. "If your child looks like they're having a stroke, get medical attention."

The study, "Timing and number of minor infections as risk factors for childhood arterial ischemic stroke," was published in the journal, Neurology.

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