Recent Study Shows Pregnant Woman are More at Risk for Strokes

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While picking out baby booties and nursery color schemes, mothers-to-be should also be paying attention to the effects their pregnancy is having on their body, some of which could be life-threatening.

Dr. Mark Alberts, physician-in-chief of the Ayer Neuroscience Institute at Hartford HealthCare, reported out of the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology on new research evaluating the risk of stroke in pregnancy.

In research presented at the annual meeting, researchers from the University of Texas at Houston studied more than 3 million deliveries and found a significantly elevated risk of cerebral hemorrhage during the third trimester and one or two months postpartum.

“We know from prior studies that there is an increased risk of stroke at that time, but most were ischemic strokes. This is one of the few large studies to show an increased risk for cerebral hemorrhage, which is among the worst types of strokes you can have,” Dr. Alberts said.

The majority of all strokes are ischemic, in which blood flow through the arteries supplying blood to the brain is blocked. Hemorrhagic strokes happen when an artery in or around the brain leaks blood or ruptures.

While the research indicated more dangerous strokes happening in pregnant women, the real cause is still somewhat a mystery. Dr. Alberts said women with clotting issues, increased blood viscosity, high blood pressure (also called preeclampsia) and eclampsia, or the onset of seizures, could predispose them to ischemic strokes. Eclampsia and preeclampsia can also trigger cerebral hemorrhagic strokes.

“At the same time, we know that pregnancy, especially late in the pregnancy and in the early postpartum period, disrupts the body’s ability to regulate the flow of blood to the brain,” Dr. Alberts said. “Plus, eclampsia and preeclampsia can weaken blood vessel stability and the structural integrity of the blood vessel walls, which can increase the risk for hemorrhagic stroke.”

This recent study echoes an announcement made earlier this year in Great Britain where research funded by the British Heart Foundation revealed that pregnant women with high blood pressure are 45-percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke and those with preeclampsia are nearly 70% more at risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 700 American women die each year from pregnancy-related complications, most of which are preventable. African- American and American Indian women are about three times more likely to die in pregnancy than white women.

“We need more research to better understand these risks so we can more effectively prevent these strokes,” Dr. Alberts said.

In the meantime, signs of preeclampsia include:

  • Rapid weight gain due to a significant increase in fluid
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Reduced urination
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive vomiting and nausea
  • Vision changes
  • Swelling of the hands and feet

Women with any of these symptoms should speak with their care provider.

In addition, Dr. Alberts said signs of stroke include:

  • Sudden onset of weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Sudden difficulty talking or being understood when talking
  • Unsteady walking that comes on suddenly
  • Sudden blindness in one or both eyes
  • Sudden onset of new, severe headache that might be described as the worst headache of your life

If you have any of these symptoms, or are with someone who is having these new symptoms, get to a safe spot and call 911 immediately. For more information on stroke, go to www.hartfordhospital.org/stroke.

 

 


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