Neonatal Stroke Causes

4 Min Read

Photo of hands holding a babys feet

Although strokes are usually associated with older people, unborn babies and infants (known as ‘neonates’ until they reach four weeks of age) can suffer these injuries as well. 

If you’re a new parent, this can be a frightening discovery, and you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the condition.

Categories of child stroke

There are two main kinds of early child stroke, each with their own causes, effects and implications for treatment. These are:

  • ‘Childhood’ typically includes children from four weeks to 18 months old.
  • ‘Perinatal’ refers to the period between the 22nd week of pregnancy and four weeks after birth, so a child who has a stroke in the four week post-partum period is either described as suffering from a perinatal stroke or a neonatal stroke.

This guide focuses on neonatal stroke causes and facts.

Neonatal stroke causes

A neonatal stroke is caused by interference with the blood supply to a baby’s brain, typically caused by blockage of blood vessels.

Where the brain is starved of oxygen, this is known as cerebral hypoxia, which can cause a number of other serious issues.

Neonates are the highest risk group for stroke – the last four weeks of pregnancy and the first four weeks of life are the most dangerous in this regard. The commonest cause is clots breaking off from the placenta and lodging in the brain, or maternal blood clotting disorders.

Other neonatal stroke causes can be linked to the condition of the baby’s mother; a mum with diabetes or a congenital cardiac condition may have a baby more vulnerable to stroke. Similarly, if mum contracted an infection during pregnancy, this may increase the risk of a stroke in her newborn.

In many cases, the cause of a neonatal stroke cannot be identified; seemingly healthy babies with no recognised complications can also suffer strokes.

In some circumstances, errors on the part of doctors may have exposed the baby to the risk of stroke. Doctors and midwives must look for high risk factors and signs of stroke and, if any signs are detected, make prompt decisions and act quickly.

Two doctors looking at a brain scan

Strokes are more difficult to identify in neonates than in older children. An older child might have hemiparesis, which is weakness down one side of the body – this is the most common symptom for children of this age. For neonates, however, sometimes the first sign of a stroke is the more severe symptom of seizures, meaning that it can be more difficult to diagnose a stroke quickly and take steps to minimise the damage it causes.

In some cases, a neonate who has suffered a stroke may not show symptoms for several months. At this point, the child may begin to show one-sided weakness (hemiparesis) and impaired movement. Neonates who suffer strokes and develop seizures in the first few days after birth are the most likely to be diagnosed early and treated for stroke, leading to better outcomes. The longer a stroke goes undiagnosed, the greater the potential for it to cause lasting damage.

A significant proportion of children who suffer from neonatal stroke develop cerebral palsy.

Neonatal stroke treatment

Recent advances in treating neonatal stoke include hypothermia, or cooling therapy. This may be helpful in some cases where there is also neonatal encephalopathy. Lowering the baby’s temperature can protect the brain from further damage, although not every child will be an appropriate candidate for this type of therapy and doctors will need to make quick accurate decisions on whether to administer it.

infant Stroke Claim Specialists

Our team of expert stroke claim lawyers can look at the circumstances surrounding a neonatal stroke and help you investigate if negligent care was involved. Contact us now to find out how we can help.