Over half of all parents whose children have suffered from a stroke show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2015.
Researchers also found that about one-fourth of children who have experienced a stroke show signs of clinical anxiety. Both parental PTSD and child anxiety are two factors that could interfere with treatment and outcomes.
Stroke is one of the top causes of death for children in America, estimated to affect about 3,000 children and young adults every year, according to the American Stroke Association. Between 20 to 40 percent of children die after a stroke with the risk being greatest during the first year of life.
Sickle cell disease and congenital heart disease are two common risk factors for pediatric stroke; boys are also at a higher risk than girls, and African Americans are at a higher risk than Caucasian or Asian children.
“We were prompted to look at this issue based on our own clinical experiences here at Boston Children’s Hospital,” said Laura Lehman, M.D., lead researcher and neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“When something happens to a child, it happens to the whole family. The psychosocial part of recovery after stroke is just as important as the physical recovery, so our hope is to use this data to more effectively treat these families.”
The preliminary study involved nine pediatric stroke patients ages seven to 18 years, 10 fathers, and 23 mothers of child stroke victims ranging in ages from infant to teenager. The children had experienced their strokes in either 2013 or 2014.
The findings showed that 55 percent of the parents met at least one of the PTSD criteria and 24 percent met all the criteria for PTSD. While symptoms of PTSD were not seen among the children, 22 percent had clinically significant levels of anxiety.
“Our concern is that PTSD in parents of a child with stroke or pediatric stroke patients experiencing anxiety may have a harder time complying with therapy, which could affect health outcomes of the child,” said Lehman.
“The data are preliminary but we could use this information to screen families for potential PTSD and emotional problems after stroke so that we can plan more targeted interventions, such as support groups, and determine who is at risk. We want to ensure that PTSD or other emotional problems do not interfere with the child’s recovery.”
PTSD can occur several months or even years after the traumatic event. PTSD symptoms can include reliving the traumatic event several months after it happened whether through dreams or while awake, feeling emotional distress, repetitive negative thoughts, feeling hopeless about the future, and avoiding situations that may bring back memories of the traumatic event.
PTSD has been seen among parents of critically ill children and in families where children were treated in pediatric intensive care units for cancer or other life-threatening diseases, and those who were undergoing organ transplants, Lehman said. However, PTSD in pediatric stroke patients or their parents has not been studied until now.
Source: American Heart Association