A study published in September 2011 found that there had been a significant increase in strokes among women who were pregnant and in the immediate post-pregnancy period.
Overall rates of stroke have jumped 54 percent from 1994-2007 according to the study published in Stroke by the American Heart Association. Stroke rates saw their highest increase by 83 percent in women who had just delivered their newborn babies. These strokes occurred in the first three months following delivery.
Women in the age group 25-34 years old were more commonly hospitalized for stroke compared to women who were younger or older.
It is important to point out that the overall numbers of strokes were very small and so stroke remains a rare complication during pregnancy. However, the number did increase during the study period.
This increase in stroke rates, the authors determined, was associated with the increasing likelihood that pregnant women had other risk factors for stroke, such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
More than half of the women suffering from strokes from 2006-07 had concurrent high blood pressure or heart disease.
High blood pressure effects 10-15 percent of all pregnancies and is the leading cause of death for both mom and her baby. There is also an increased risk of both delayed growth in the developing baby and tearing of the placenta during the pregnancy.
I don’t think women need to be alarmed about these findings and there is nothing to suggest that pregnancy by itself increases your risk of having a stroke.
In fact, the study showed that women who already had risk factors were the ones being affected by strokes, a finding we have known for sometime.
I think the most important take home point from this study is to get yourself established with a primary care doctor earlier rather than later in life. This will allow the doctor to screen you for the presence of these risk factors, and if you already have them, then treatment can begin.
Getting high blood pressure under control is an excellent way to help prevent complications like stroke and heart disease from happening. Make sure you tell your doctor who is treating your high blood pressure that you are planning on becoming pregnant as some medications cannot be used during pregnancy.