POST TIME: 19 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Stroke may not mean language loss for newborns

Stroke may not mean 
language loss for newborns

Strokes in babies may not have the same lasting effects as they do in adults, a new study suggests. Researchers from the Georgetown University Medical Center found that people who'd had a stroke as a newborn that damaged the left side of their brain -- the side that normally controls language -- used the other side of their brain for language. "Their language is good -- normal," said study author Elissa Newport. She's director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown and the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

About 1 in 4,000 babies have a stroke shortly before, during or after birth, according to the researchers. The researchers' findings came from a small study -- 12 people, aged 12 to 25, who'd had a left-brain stroke when they were newborns. All 12 used the right side of their brain for language.

The findings highlight how "plastic" brain function is in infants, according to Newport.

"Imaging shows that children up to about age 4 can process language in both sides of their brains," she said in a Georgetown news release. "Then the functions split up: The left side processes sentences and the right processes emotion in language.

"We believe there are very important constraints to where functions can be relocated," Newport added.

"There are very specific regions that take over when part of the brain is injured, depending on the particular function," she explained. "Each function -- like language or spatial skills -- has a particular region that can take over if its primary brain area is injured."

She described the finding as "a very important discovery that may have implications in the rehabilitation of adult stroke survivors."

The study was to be presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Austin, Texas. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary because it has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny given to research published in medical journals.

In pregnancy, proteins come across the placenta from mother to fetus, which help to decrease the risk of bleeding. However, this puts the fetus at higher risk for clotting and stroke. Also, sometimes clots can form in the placenta and travel to the fetus’ blood circulation. These clots may eventually make their way to the baby’s brain and cause a stroke.

Labour and delivery is another common time when stroke can occur in newborns. Childbirth can cause tremendous strain on the baby’s head. Stress on the arteries and veins in the baby’s head may lead to clot formation and stroke.

In addition, newborns come into the world with thicker blood than the rest of us – twice as many red blood cells as an adult – and this in itself can lead to clotting. In the first few days after birth, dehydration can be a problem, which can also cause the blood to clot.

Stroke in newborns usually shows no clinical symptoms, and the problem often goes unrecognized and thus untreated until the baby is much older. The usual symptoms seen in older children and adults, such as speech problems, numbness on one side, or imbalance, are difficult or impossible to detect in a newborn.