Common colds may temporarily increase the risk of a stroke in children, a new study has found.
Researchers – who took pains to emphasize that the overall risk of strokes in children is extremely low—said the findings suggest that colds and other minor infections may have a strong if short-lived effect on the risk of stroke in children who are already susceptible to a stroke.
“These are kids who are probably in some other way disposed to a stroke, and these infections act as a trigger,” said Heather J. Fullerton, director of the pediatric stroke program at University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital.
In reviewing medical records on 2.6 million children from a large health care insurance plan, the study focused on 102 children who suffered strokes. After controlling for similar cases among 302 children, the researchers examined the timing between treatment for colds and the stroke and discovered an elevated risk within three days of the child’s visit to a physician because of the cold.
In 80 percent of the cases, the children suffered from respiratory infections, but not severe infections such as meningitis. The findings suggest that the children who had strokes were 12 times more likely to have had an infection within the previous three days than children who did not.
Fullerton, the study’s author, said the research suggests that the conditions created by an infection – such as inflamed tissue caused by an immune response in the body – are conducive to creating blood clots and restricted blood flow in both children and adults.
About 5 per 100,000 children a year suffer strokes in the United States, Fullerton said. Some children are at risk of stroke because of heart defects, sickle cell anemia or inflammatory diseases such as lupus. Other children can be at risk for stroke because of trauma that injures blood vessels in the brain or neck, Fullerton said.
A similar link between stroke and minor infections had been reported previously in adults.
“Infections are really common in children, so it made sense to see if it would be as common in children as with adults,” Fullerton said.
The study was published Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the AMerican Academy of Neurology.