A new Canadian study has found pregnant women face a higher risk of stroke, particularly in the period just before and after their baby is born.
“We found stroke affects 30 out of every 100,000 pregnancies and that’s about three times the risk in young women who are not pregnant,” said study co-author Dr. Richard Swartz, a stroke neurologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
Researchers reviewed all international studies that looked at incidence of stroke during pregnancy and the six weeks following birth published between 1990 and January 2017.
What causes the increase in stroke risk is not known but risk factors for stroke like high blood pressure and diabetes become more common in women during pregnancy. There are hormonal changes and conditions like preeclampsia that may increase stroke risk.
To reduce their risk, Dr. Swartz suggests pregnant women not smoke, manage their blood sugars if they experience gestational diabetes and work with their doctors to control high blood pressure. They should also be aware of stroke’s early warning signs.
“If they can’t see, if they can’t speak, if they can’t move. We talk about the FAST acronym as well, so face (drooping), arm weakness, speech problems, that’s the F-A-S and the T stands for time. Call 911.”
Victoria McLelland was a new mother with an eight-week-old baby girl when she experienced a sudden stroke three years ago.
“I was just sitting on the bed and I got up and suddenly had a head ache and felt dizzy.
“I laid down for a bit and my left side went numb and I couldn’t move my arm or leg so I knew it was pretty serious.”
McLelland called 911 and because her stroke was diagnosed and treated quickly, she was able to make a full recovery. Today, the Ontario mom is pregnant with her second child and taking extra precautions to prevent a second stroke.
“They said its unlikely to ever happen again but after this baby is born I’m going to take blood thinning medications to hopefully prevent it for the next 12 weeks.”
The study was published in the International Journal of Stroke.