It’s Rare, but Colds Can Increase Stroke Risk in Kids

Researchers say risk is uncommon and short-lived

In bed with a cold

When they have a cold, kids may sniffle or mope and miss a day or two of school.  But on very rare occasions, a new study says colds in children may pose a more serious threat: an increased risk of stroke.

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New study looks at links between infection and stroke

In general, childhood stroke is very rare. Most people associate stroke with older individuals. However, about six cases per 100,000 each year involve children. It is important to understand what is behind those episodes, researchers say. With that information, doctors learn how to minimize any risk factors as well as look at unique treatment options.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) examined whether the timing and number of minor infections increased risk of childhood arterial ischemic stroke. In this study, researchers examined the medical records of 2.5 million children to study 102 cases involving stroke.

They found that the strongest association between infection and stroke involved doctors’ visits three days before a stroke occurred. Respiratory infections represented 80 percent of case infections.

Researchers concluded that minor infections appear to have a strong but short-lived effect on stroke risk in children. However, having a greater number of infections over time had no effect (which is a difference in studies of adults and stroke). Experts say this suggests a possible inflammatory-related clotting problem rather than direct damage to the blood vessel itself.

Interpreting results

Pediatric neurologist Neil Friedman, MBChB, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Pediatric Neurology and pediatric stroke neurologist, reviewed the study, but did not participate.

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“While the link between infection and stroke in children has been suspected for some time, what the study showed is that the risk for stroke in children is associated with minor infections, rather than direct brain infection, predominantly upper respiratory tract infections (colds),” Dr. Friedman says.

He says the study authors also provided detailed information about the timing of infection in relationship to stroke occurrence.

“The highest risk was within the first three days after that infection and then dissipated after seven days,” he says. This means that any increased risk was short-lived, he adds.

A previous study by UCSF researchers published in 2012, also based on the same cohort of 2.5 million medical records, found links between previous trauma and infection and stroke in children. Researchers found that of those children who had strokes, a minor acute infection was an independent risk factor present in one-third of cases.

What this means for your child

Dr. Friedman says it’s important to keep the results of the study in perspective.

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“What’s very important to realize is that when you look at the number of children that have infections, which is tens of thousands of children every year, the risk of stroke is very, very small.”

This study shouldn’t alarm you, Dr. Friedman explains. “This paper is not suggesting that your child’s risk is very high with an infection. What it is suggesting, though, is that there is some relationship of infection toward stroke, and we need to better understand what causes that risk. We need to explore whether it’s due to problems with inflammation, the clotting system, or possible damage to the blood vessels themselves.”

As always, call your physician or schedule an appointment for your child if you are concerned about an infection or illness.

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