Strokes for Pregnant Women and New Moms on the Rise

by Staff

pregnant womanWhile strokes during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth are rare (only 6,300 women were hospitalized for pregnancy-related strokes or mini-strokes in 2007), researchers have seen an alarming jump.

A new study shows the number of moms-to-be and new moms suffering from strokes increased almost 50% between 1995 and 2007. During pregnancy itself, the number of women having a stroke increased by 47%. In the 12 weeks following pregnancy, the rates increased 83%.

Increased Pregnancy Stroke Risk

Because more pregnant women have pre-existing risk factors, the researchers said they expected more strokes. The amount of increase, however, was a surprise, says Dr. Elena Kuklina, lead study author and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"More and more women entering pregnancy already have some type of risk factor for stroke, such as obesity, chronic hypertension, diabetes or congenital heart disease," Dr. Kuklina states. "Since pregnancy by itself is a risk factor, if you have one of these other stroke risk factors, it doubles the risk."

25 to 34-year-old pregnant women were most likely to be hospitalized for stroke Dr. Kuklina found. Recognizing stroke symptoms is vital for young women, especially as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are occurring at younger and younger ages.

Signs of Stroke

A stroke must be recognized and diagnosed during the first three hour after symptoms begin to be treated effectively. Possible stroke signs:

  • Sudden confusion, or trouble speaking or understanding others
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms or legs, especially if this occurs only on one side
  • Blurry vision in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking or coordinating movements
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

In addition to the list above, women report unique symptoms such as sudden hiccups, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations.

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor or midwife right away as every moment counts.

F.A.S.T. Action for Family Members

While morning sickness and cravings require empathy and not a doctor, more serious worries like the risk of heart disease are worth a visit. Do you know how to respond if your pregnant partner might be having a stroke? Act F.A.S.T. and do this simple test:

F -- FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A -- ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S -- SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T -- TIME: If you observe any of these signs, write down the time and call 9-1-1 immediately.

Can We Reverse the Trend?

While this is scary stuff, and we like to think that the time when women died in pregnancy or childbirth is over, the increase in strokes is cause for concern. These strokes are also a reminder that pregnancy makes your heart work harder. What can you do to lower your risk?

Dr. Kuklina encourages women to try and be as healthy as possible before they get pregnant. She recommends eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and not smoking. She also advises women who have a chronic condition to make sure it is as under control as possible before getting pregnant.

The study shows a woman who begins pregnancy with diabetes or high blood pressure doubles her chances of having a stroke during or right after pregnancy. A woman coming into pregnancy with a pre-existing heart condition has ten times the risk of stroke. Take care of yourself, mama!

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