How Does Neonatal Stroke Affect Babies Long Term?

Most people don’t know that newborns are at the same risk of suffering a stroke as elderly individuals.  With the side effects of stroke commonly known, one must ask – “how does neonatal stroke affect babies long term?” For parents, understanding how a stroke may affect your child now and in the future is important for making decisions about his or her care.

These considerations are also important for researchers, such as those at Georgetown University who published the results of a study in February 2018 focused on how infant brains adapt after neonatal strokes.  Take a look at a summary of the research, as well as helpful information about neonatal stroke. 

Study Examines Stroke Survivors and how the Brain Adapts

Researchers at Georgetown University examined the medical records and status of 12 individuals who had survived a neonatal stroke.  Now with ages ranging from 12 to 25, researchers wanted to determine what impact the stroke had on the child’s long-term health and wellbeing.  For the most part, those studied demonstrated little evidence of having had a stroke.  One participant walked with a limp, and several made their left hands dominant due to damage in functionality on the right side.  All demonstrated good language skills.

Researchers noted that during the perinatal period, an infant’s brain is very plastic, which makes it easier to adapt.  When one part of the brain is damaged, the developing brain can reallocate skills to another healthy part of the brain.  There are specific regions of the brain that may function as an alternate when brain damage occurs, but researchers warned that there are limitations.

Even so, understanding that there are regions of the brain that can take over for functions like language or spatial skills offers promise for managing and treating symptoms associated with a stroke.  The promising results of this study has led to an extended group, and will examine functions other than language in the hopes of identifying regions of the brain that have taken over.

Researchers also hope to gain a better understanding of the plasticity of the brain, to see if there is a way to “switch on” that plasticity and adaptability in adults.  The hope is to find better ways of managing care for adults who have suffered a brain injury or stroke.

Neonatal Stroke Information

Estimates indicate that neonatal strokes occur in approximately one out of every 4,000 births.  These strokes may occur shortly before, during or shortly after the baby is born.  Most infant strokes occur within a month of the baby being born. Depending on when it occurs, it may be called a perinatal stroke.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted.  This may be caused by damage or rupture of the blood vessels (infant brain bleed), a blood clot traveling to the brain or a lack of oxygen supply to the brain.  The causes of neonatal stroke vary, and include factors like the mother’s health, the health of the baby and complications of pregnancy, labor or delivery. 

neonatal stroke

Some of the more common factors associated with neonatal stroke include:

Sometimes babies who appear perfectly healthy, who did not have a complicated pregnancy or maternal factors, can still suffer a stroke.  The causes of stroke are sometimes more difficult to determine, which is why more research is needed to better understand why they occur and how best to treat them.

Symptoms of Neonatal Stroke

Many babies show no outward symptoms of a stroke. This can cause the stroke to be unnoticed for weeks or months. As the baby gets older, however, the effects of the stroke may become apparent. Parents may notice symptoms like:

  • Speech difficulties
  • Lack of balance
  • Numbness or weakness on one side
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Neurological impairment

There are cases, however, where an infant does show immediate signs of a stroke. In these cases, seizures are common. Healthcare providers and parents should carefully monitor the baby if they start exhibiting signs of a seizure, such as jerking movements or apnea.

Treating Neonatal Stroke Patients  

When an infant suffers a stroke, there is no doubt the situation is terrifying.  Fortunately, infants are more likely to recover from a stroke due to the plasticity and adaptability of their brain and nervous system.  What is most important is getting immediate treatment for the stroke, then planning for future care and healthcare-related needs.

The most common treatments for neonatal stroke patients include:

  • Administering fluids to keep the patient hydrated, or to rehydrate
  • Providing oxygen if needed
  • Ordering blood transfusions if needed
  • Treating heart conditions
  • Administering blood thinners (medication)
  • Ordering therapies for immediate, or long-term treatment (occupational, physical, and speech therapy are often beneficial)

Timely diagnosis and treatment of a stroke can go a long way toward improving the patient’s prognosis.  Many people who suffer neonatal stroke go on to live a healthy, productive life.  There are, unfortunately, others who develop complications or other conditions that may affect their overall wellbeing and prognosis. Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is one concern for infants who have birth asphyxia or who suffer an ischemic stroke.

Another factor that may contribute to the treatment and prognosis of stroke survivors is what caused the stroke and how severe the damage to the brain is.  In cases where the cause of stroke was a traumatic brain injury, there may be more significant damage to the brain.  Brain damage from a stroke can lead to permanent disorders like cerebral palsy.

It is important to understand the causes of a stroke and the impacts when developing a treatment plan.

Learn More about Neonatal Stroke and Other Birth Injuries

If you have questions about neonatal stroke or other types of birth injuries, check out our website and blog, or contact Birth Injury Guide to speak with one of our birth injury attorneys.  Birth injuries have a profound impact on your family, and we are here to offer support and guidance wherever possible.  Fill out our online form to learn more or begin a free case review.

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Meagan Cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.