Stroke in pregnant women three times higher than in non-pregnant women: study

Stroke in women during pregnancy is three times higher than stroke in non-pregnant woman of the same age, according to a Canadian study published last week in the International Journal of Stroke.

The study also reveals that roughly 30 out of 100,000 women will experience a stroke during the pregnancy period. The highest risk occurs during the periods just before or following birth.

“Pregnancy can affect vascular risk factors, like diabetes or blood pressure, but many people don’t recognize there is an increased risk of stroke,” says study co-author Dr. Rick Swartz, stroke neurologist; medical director North East GTA Regional Stroke Program, director of the Stroke Research Unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and assistant professor, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto. “Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in adults and when stroke occurs as a complication of pregnancy, the impact on the mother, child and families can be devastating.”

What precisely increases stroke risk in pregnant women requires more study. However, early findings suggest hormonal changes and certain conditions like preeclampsia may increase risk.

The condition — a sudden onset of very high blood pressure can be potentially life-threatening for moms-to-be and their babies if left untreated. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke but it can be managed.

“All pregnant women are at a low, but increased risk of stroke,” says study co-author Dr. Patrice Lindsay, director of stroke, Heart & Stroke.

Dr. Lindsay’s recommendations to decrease risk of stroke during pregnancy include

  • following a healthy diet
  • being physically active and smoke-free
  • managing blood pressure and stress
  • limiting alcohol consumption.

Regular follow up with one’s physician throughout pregnancy is especially helpful to monitor stroke risk factors such as pre-eclampsia, blood pressure and blood sugar, and to discuss any symptoms of concern.

While there was minimal evidence surrounding recurrence rates in subsequent post-stroke pregnancies, Dr. Lindsay notes that women who have had a previous stroke can get pregnant and should work closely with their healthcare providers to ensure that their risks and prevention needs are addressed. Future research is needed to address this gap.

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