Stroke in pregnancy on the rise

According to latest reports the number of strokes among pregnant women and new mothers has risen to a new peak probably because more of them are obese and suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease.

Hospitalizations for pregnancy-related strokes and “mini strokes” jumped from about 4,100 in 1994-95 to around 6,300 in 2006-07, a 54 percent increase, researchers said, extrapolating from figures in a large federal database. Dr. Olajide Williams, a neurologist at Columbia University and Harlem Hospital and an American Stroke Association spokesman said, “That is a very, very alarm-raising statistic that we need to take extremely seriously. We need to be more aggressive in screening these women for these risk factors.”

Although these numbers are small compared to the 4 million babies are born each year in the U.S., researchers are worried because pregnancy raises a woman's risk of a stroke because of all the hormone and blood changes that occur. If she starts out unhealthy, with a problem like diabetes or high blood pressure, she doubles her risk of suffering a stroke during or right after pregnancy, said Dr. Elena Kuklina, a stroke prevention expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She led the study, published Thursday in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

For the study the team used records from a sample of hospitals in nearly all states, covering up to 8 million hospitalizations each year. They looked at the number of women having strokes or transient ischemic attacks — TIAs, or “mini strokes” — while pregnant or in the three months after childbirth.

Rates were highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast. They found that high rates of high blood pressure and heart disease, health problems closely related to obesity accounted for nearly all the rise in stroke-related hospitalizations. Researchers also noted that women are having children at later ages, and the risk of a stroke rises with age.

Sometimes pregnant women and new moms are so focused on the baby's health that they neglect to consider their own, Williams said. “They're thinking about the baby's name, the special room and what color they're going to paint the room. They're thinking about motherhood. But an ounce of prevention is always the best recipe for a healthy life,” Williams said.

Kuklina added, “If you plan a pregnancy, try to see your physician before you get pregnant” to be assessed for stroke risks, she advised. And if you are pregnant, “try to start your prenatal care as early as possible. It's important to live healthy lives, to have healthy diets, stop smoking if you are smoking, increase your physical activity and maintain your healthy weight before pregnancy and continue during pregnancy.”

Getting help fast, as soon as symptoms appear, is important in preventing long-term damage. The warning signs of a stroke are sudden onset of any of these: numbness or weakness on one side, severe headache with no known cause, confusion, and trouble walking, speaking or seeing.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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