Mark T. Mackay, MBBS Zhi Kai Chua, BSc Michelle Lee, BSc Adriana Yock-Corrales, MD Leonid Churilov, PhD Paul Monagle, MD Geoffrey A. Donnan, MD Franz E. Babl, MD
Objectives: To determine symptoms, signs, and etiology of brain attacks in children presenting to the emergency department (ED) as a first step for developing a pediatric brain attack pathway.
Methods: Prospective observational study of children aged 1 month to 18 years with brain attacks (defined as apparently abrupt-onset focal brain dysfunction) and ongoing symptoms or signs on arrival to the ED. Exclusion criteria included epilepsy, hydrocephalus, head trauma, and isolated headache. Etiology was determined after review of clinical data, neuroimaging, and other investigations. A random-effects meta-analysis of similar adult studies was compared with the current study. Results: There were 287 children (46% male) with 301 presentations over 17 months. Thirty-five
percent arrived by ambulance. Median symptom duration before arrival was 6 hours (interquartile range 2–28 hours). Median time from triage to medical assessment was 22 minutes (interquartile range 6–55 minutes). Common symptoms included headache (56%), vomiting (36%), focal weakness (35%), numbness (24%), visual disturbance (23%), seizures (21%), and altered consciousness (21%). Common signs included focal weakness (31%), numbness (13%), ataxia (10%), or speech disturbance (8%). Neuroimaging included CT imaging (30%), which was abnormal in 27%, and MRI (31%), which was abnormal in 62%. The most common diagnoses included migraine (28%), seizures (15%), Bell palsy (10%), stroke (7%), and conversion disorders (6%). Relative proportions of conditions in children significantly differed from adults for stroke, migraine, seizures, and conversion disorders.
Conclusions: Brain attack etiologies differ from adults, with stroke being the fourth most common diagnosis. These findings will inform development of ED clinical pathways for pediatric brain attacks. Neurology® 2014;82:1434–1440 GLOSSARY CRF 5 case report form; ED 5 emergency department; IQR 5 interquartile range; RCH 5 Royal Children’s Hospital.
Supplemental data at Neurology.org
Timely recognition of stroke is essential to ensure appropriate acute management. Four recent pediatric studies have confirmed significant diagnostic delays in the prehospital setting attributed to lack of community awareness and after arrival at hospital attributed to lack of recognition of stroke symptoms by attending physicians.1–4 Diagnostic delays may relate to lack of consideration of stroke as a diagnosis in children presenting with acute focal neurologic symptoms or headache. Stroke is now considered a medical emergency. Prehospital and emergency department (ED) management protocols have been developed to facilitate rapid transport to hospital, clinical assessment, and diagnostic neuroimaging. Thrombolysis is established as standard of care in adults presenting within a 4.5-hour time window.5 Key to management in adults is a high probability of stroke in patients presenting with brain attack symptoms.6–9 It is currently unclear whether adult brain attack protocols can be implemented in children because of limited understanding of the spectrum of symptoms and signs of brain attacks and lack of data about the From the Department of Neurology (M.T.M.) and Emergency Department (Z.K.C., M.L., F.E.B.), Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Parkville; Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (M.T.M., F.E.B.), Parkville; Florey Institute of Neurosciences and Mental Health (M.T.M., L.C., G.A.D.), Parkville; University of Melbourne (M.T.M., Z.K.C., M.L., L.C., P.M., G.A.D., F.E.B.), Parkville, Australia; and Hospital Nacional de Ninos (A.Y.-C.), San Jose, Costa Rica. Go to Neurology.org for full disclosures. Funding information and disclosures deemed relevant by the authors, if any, are provided at the end of the article.
probability of stroke. Only one previous study has described the conditions that mimic stroke in children referred to a pediatric stroke service while inpatients.10 Determining the causes of brain attacks in children presenting to the ED is a key first step for the development of a pediatric brain attack protocol. The primary aims of this study were to describe the presenting features, scope, and prevalence of conditions causing brain attack symptoms in children presenting to a tertiary pediatric ED. The secondary aims were to describe timelines of care and ED physician practice and to explore differences in the spectrum of conditions causing brain attacks in children and adults. We quantitatively synthesized published information about the spectrum of disorders causing brain attacks in adults through meta-analysis because there is no single reference summarizing the spectrum of mimics in adults presenting to the ED with suspected stroke. We hypothesized that the conditions causing brain attacks in children differ from adults regarding their scope and frequency and that there is a lower a priori probability of stroke. METHODS Design. This was a prospective observational study of consecutive children aged 1 month to 18 years presenting to the ED with brain attacks from June 2009 to December 2010. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne (RCH) is the tertiary pediatric referral center for the state of Victoria in Australia (population of 5 million). The annual ED census is 67,000.
Demographics and prehospital management
95% CI, %
Prospective data entry a
Medical history relevant for stroke
Sudden onset of symptoms
Woke with symptoms
Well in the week before presentation
Referred to ED by health professional
Transported to ED by ambulance
Assigned high triage category
Median age at presentation, y
9.8 (IQR 5.0–13.8)
Abbreviations: CI 5 confidence interval; ED 5 emergency department; IQR 5 interquartile range. a In order of frequency: history of headache or migraine (8%), malignancy, recent chemotherapy, seizures (all 6%), hematologic disorders, genetic syndromes, hypertension, infection (all 3%), and congenital heart disease, head and neck infection, arteriovenous malformation (all 1%).
Inclusion and exclusion criteria. Children with brain attack symptoms were recruited to the study. A brain attack was defined as focal brain dysfunction of apparently abrupt onset. Patients were identified on arrival at triage using a screening tool (figure e-1 on the Neurology® Web site at Neurology.org). The following symptoms were required for inclusion: weakness, sensory disturbance, speech disturbance, visual disturbance, altered conscious state, unexplained collapse, first febrile or afebrile seizure, headache with other symptoms, and dizziness or unsteadiness. These symptoms were chosen because they are common presenting features of stroke and they have been found to be useful in discriminating stroke from mimics in adult studies.6,7 We included headache associated with vomiting in our definition because they can be symptoms of increased intracranial pressure or hemorrhage. We selected first seizure as an inclusion criterion because it is a common presenting feature of stroke in the pediatric population.11 Patients needed to have persistent neurologic symptoms (headache, subjective visual or sensory disturbance) on presentation to the ED or presence of objective abnormal neurologic signs on examination by the ED physician. Children were excluded if they had (1) isolated headache without associated neurologic symptoms, (2) a history of witnessed head trauma, (3) a history of epilepsy, defined as 2 or more previous febrile or afebrile seizures, or (4) shunted hydrocephalus. Study procedure. Data were collected in 2 ways. The research assistant was notified of eligible patients arriving in the ED during the hours of 9 AM to 6 PM daily on weekdays after screening by the triage nurse. Children who met inclusion criteria were followed during their ED stay, and data were directly entered into the case report form (CRF). The patient discharge list in the ED triage system was reviewed daily for children who presented on the previous day outside recruitment hours. Records of eligible patients were retrieved and data were entered to a CRF, often while the child was still in the ED or on the ward. This “dual” datacollection process was reviewed after 1 month, and the data collected were found to be of good quality, with no substantial differences resulting from the 2 collection processes. All patients who presented in the ED were triaged using the national Australian Triage Scale,12 a rating of clinical urgency. Patients assigned a category of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are to be seen immediately, within 10, 30, 60, and 120 minutes, respectively. Definitions. The first neurologic examination by the emergency physician was used for the purpose of analysis. If this neurologic examination was not available, the examination of a subsequent ED physician followed by the consulting neurologist or neurosurgeon was used. ED diagnosis was assigned by the ED physician at the time of ED discharge, and final diagnosis was assigned by the study neurologist (M.T.M.) after review of all patient records, imaging studies, and other investigations. Arterial stroke diagnosis was defined as an acute neurologic deficit lasting 24 hours or more, and confirmation of ischemic parenchymal infarction on neuroimaging.13 Nontraumatic hemorrhagic stroke was defined as an acute neurologic deficit lasting 24 hours or more, and presence of parenchymal blood or intraventricular blood on neuroimaging.14 TIA required a known history of cerebrovascular disease, a clinical history typical of a vascular brain event with full resolution of symptoms within 24 hours, and absence of acute infarction on MRI.13 Migraine was defined according to the International Headache Society.15 Children not meeting these criteria were given a diagnosis of headache not otherwise specified. Bell palsy was defined as acute, idiopathic, unilateral lower motor neuron paralysis of the upper and lower facial muscles.16 Demyelinating disorders included acute disseminated encephalomyelitis,17 transverse myelitis,18 and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Neurology 82
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Medical history was defined as risk factors for pediatric stroke and included arteriopathies, cardiac disorders, chronic systemic conditions, infection, acute head and neck disorders, acute systemic conditions, prothrombotic states, chronic head and neck
Presenting symptoms and signs of pediatric brain attacks No. (%)
95% CI, %
Febrile or afebrile seizures
Altered mental status
Loss of consciousness
Statistical analyses. Statistical analyses were performed using Microsoft Excel 2010 (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA) and Stata 12 (StataCorp, College Station, TX). Presenting symptoms and signs of strokes and stroke mimics were analyzed descriptively. Analyses were performed on the total number of episodes and are presented as percentages with corresponding 95% confidence intervals. Meta-analysis of adult studies. A meta-analysis of adult studies describing the spectrum and relative proportions of conditions causing brain attacks was performed. The OVID interface was used to search MEDLINE (1946 to week 1 of May 2013) and EMBASE (1974 to week 1 of May 2013) databases. Search terms included “cerebrovascular disorders,” “time factors,” “ischaemic attack, transient,” “diagnosis, differential,” “neurologic examination,” “referral and consultation,” “reproducibility of results,” “emergency medical services,” “emergency service, hospital,” “ER or emergency room,” “stroke,” and “mimic.” Details of the full search strategy are provided in appendix e-1. Summary effects (the probability of a particular diagnosis) for selected studies with corresponding 95% confidence intervals were obtained using the DerSimonian and Laird random-effects meta-analysis model. Between-studies heterogeneity was quantified by the I2 index. The results of the adult meta-analysis were compared with probability of particular diagnoses in children. Standard protocol approvals, registrations, and patient consents. This study was reviewed and approved by the Royal Children’s Hospital Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) as a clinical audit (HREC reference CA28127).
Sign Focal weakness
Focal sensory disturbance
Inability to walk
Eye movement abnormality
Arm sensory disturbance
Leg sensory disturbance
Facial sensory disturbance
Stroke and nonstroke brain attacks in children.
To determine symptoms, signs, and etiology of brain attacks in children presenting to the emergency department (ED) as a first step for developing a p...