Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in adults, and when it arises as a complication of pregnancy, the impact on mother, child, and family can be disastrous.
Although the absolute risk of a stroke in women of childbearing age is low, women and their doctors need to be aware of the increase in relative risk to women of the same age group during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke is the sudden onset of brain impairment as a result of blood flow blockage to the brain. A stroke can come about from clogging of a blood vessel that transports nutrient-rich blood to the brain or from a rupture of an artery which then bleeds into the brain. The ensuing lack of blood circulation can damage and even worse, destroy brain cells.
A stroke can harm the proper functioning of the body in a myriad of ways including:
Stroke doesn’t discriminate between age and claims a life every 10 seconds around the world. The disease is responsible for over six million global deaths annually and is the leading cause of disability. Blood circulation to the brain can be hampered in two main ways and result in two types of stroke, ischemic (clots) and hemorrhagic (bleeding).
Ischemic strokes make up almost 90 percent of all stroke cases. The buildup of fatty deposits along the walls of an artery impede blood flow and result in blood clots or a serious narrowing of the artery in or around the brain. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the major cause of hemorrhagic stroke. When an artery deteriorates and bursts, blood pools into the brain which causes damage to the tissues and cells.
The Facts About Stroke and Pregnancy
A recent Canadian study reported that strokes in pregnant women occur three times as often as in non-pregnant women, and the risk can stay higher for up to twelve weeks after birth. The dangers of having a stroke are greatest in the period immediately before and after birth. Stroke impacts 30 out of every 100,000 pregnancies, with ischemia, cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, and hemorrhage appearing in roughly equal numbers.
There are causes of stroke that are unique to pregnancy and the postpartum period such as:
- Preeclampsia and eclampsia – a sudden and potentially deadly hike in high blood pressure requiring an early delivery
- Amniotic fluid embolism – a rare childbirth emergency where amniotic fluid enters the bloodstream of the mother to trigger a severe reaction
- Postpartum angiopathy – an uncommon condition that can cause ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke and typically occurs within the first week following delivery
- Postpartum cardiomyopathy – a rare type of heart failure that happens during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months after giving birth
Pregnancy can induce and heighten stroke risk factors such as diabetes and higher blood pressure, but many pregnant women aren’t aware of the increased risk. Moreover, the female body forms additional blood clots during pregnancy to protect itself from excessive bleeding during delivery. Those clots can travel to the brain and become strokes.
How to Prevent a Stroke During Pregnancy
Doctors state the best ways to minimize the risk of stroke during pregnancy are to:
- Exercise regularly
- Minimize stress
- Eat a healthy, low-salt, and well-balanced diet
- Do not smoke
- Limit alcohol consumption
Track and Be Aware of Stroke Warning Signs
Being aware of the warning signs of a stroke and what to do when you do notice them are vital to minimize its damage and enhance your recovery. And making smart lifestyle choices to minimize the risk factors associated with stroke can go a long way to ward off the disease.
When your brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, your body will send some clear signs to sound the alarm:
- Drooping facial muscles
- Sudden weakness or numbing in the arms or legs, particularly on one side of the body
- Slurred speech and difficulty understanding others
- Sudden vision difficulties in one or both eyes
- Abrupt onset of dizziness or trouble walking
- Sudden severe headache for no apparent reason
If you notice one or more of these warning signals, even for a brief time, you should seek medical attention right away. Call your doctor or 911 immediately or get to a hospital.
To learn more about how to diagnose or prevent stroke during your pregnancy, please feel free to contact us. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and address any of your concerns.