Silent strokes, which have no immediate symptoms but could cause long-term cognitive and learning deficits, occur in a significant number of severely anemic children, especially those with sickle cell disease, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011. One-quarter to one-third of children with sickle cell disease have evidence of silent strokes in their brains, according to Michael M. Dowling, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.”These are 5- to 10-year-old children who have brains that look like the brains of 80-year-olds,” Dowling said. In sickle cell disease, the blood cells are misshapen (sickle-shaped) and may form clots or block blood vessels. About 10 percent of children with sickle cell disease suffer a stroke. Blood transfusions can reduce the high risk of repeat strokes. Dowling and colleagues hypothesized that silent strokes occur during severe anemia and may be detectable by MRI. They used MRI on the brains of 52 hospitalized children 2- to 19-years-old at Children’s Medical Center Dallas with hemoglobin concentrations dropping below 5.5 g/dL.
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