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Parents experience post-traumatic stress disorder after child’s stroke




Parents of children who have had a stroke can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the children show signs of clinical anxiety. Both factors could interfere with treatment and outcomes, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2015 in Nashville.

A preliminary study conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital examined 10 fathers and 23 mothers of children ranging in ages from infant to teenager. It also enrolled nine pediatric stroke patients between 7 and 18 years. The children had experienced their strokes in either 2013 or 2014.

Fifty-five percent of the parents met at least one of the PTSD criteria and 24 percent met all the criteria for PTSD. While PTSD was 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 Laura Lehman, M.D., lead researcher and neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. "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 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 can occur several months or even years after the traumatic event.

PTSD was observed among parents whose children had chronic medical conditions including congenital heart disease and moyamoya as well as parents of children with no medical histories.

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is estimated to affect about 3,000 children and young adults every year and is one of the leading causes of death for children in America. The risk is greatest during the first year of life, with the risk from birth through age 18 being 11 per 100,000 children.

"We were prompted to look at this issue based on our own clinical experiences here at Boston Children’s Hospital," Lehman said. "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."

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