Pregnancy and Stroke: are you At Risk?

When Brooke Bergfeld developed a severe headache about a week after giving birth, she assumed it was just another migraine, like the ones she'd had during her pregnancy. Her left arm began to hurt suddenly, and she thought it was muscle pains from having a baby.

Brooke had a slurred voice, and her face was drooping. This is a classic sign of stroke . Brooke's mother called 9-1-1 as soon as she saw the symptoms . Doctors performed a thrombectomy to eliminate a blood clot. Brooke continues to deal with the effects of stroke on her life today and works hard to spread awareness about stroke.

Women may mistake their stroke symptoms for issues related to pregnancy and a new baby.

How Common Is Stroke During Or After Pregnancy?

Stroke is not common in pregnancy or during the years women can have children. But pregnancy does put women at higher risk for stroke, and the rate of pregnancy-related stroke is rising.1

How does pregnancy increase the risk for stroke? Pregnancy is like a stress test; it can strain the heart and blood vessels. This is partly because the body carries more weight during pregnancy, but changing hormones also play a role.1

Although most American women are healthy during pregnancy and birth, strokes can still occur in some cases. The following are some of the possible problems:

High blood pressure during pregnancy.

Having high blood pressure during pregnancy is the leading cause of stroke in pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. Up to 12% in pregnancies are affected by high blood pressure in the United States. Some women who had healthy blood pressure levels before getting pregnant can develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is a more severe type of high blood pressure during pregnancy. Preeclampsia may cause vision issues, headaches and swelling of the face and hands. It can also lead to premature births and low birth weight. Preeclampsia, which can lead to stroke and cause seizures in the worst cases, can also result from preeclampsia. Women who had preeclampsia have a much higher risk of having high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke later in life than women who did not have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes.

Some women suddenly develop problems with blood sugar (glucose) during pregnancy, a condition called gestational diabetes. This happens in as many as 1 in 10 pregnancies in the United States.4 Gestational diabetes raises the risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy and for heart disease and stroke later in life.

The formation of blood clots.

Pregnancy makes the blood more likely to clot, which can lead to stroke. This increased risk for clotting happens in part because swelling from pregnancy can reduce blood flow to the lower legs. If blood doesn't circulate well it will be more likely that it will clot. During late pregnancy, the body also makes more of a substance that helps blood clot. This helps protect women from bleeding too much when they give birth, but it also raises the risk for stroke.

What Are The Symptoms Of Stroke During Or After Pregnancy?

Many women may mistake their stroke symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, or tingling arms, for issues related to pregnancy and a new baby. A stroke is when your symptoms suddenly appear.

The keystroke symptoms are here:

You should immediately dial 9-1-1 if you experience any of the symptoms listed above.

If I suspect that someone is suffering from a stroke, what should I do? You can help someone who thinks they may have a stroke by calling F.A.S.T. Do the following:

Take note of when symptoms begin to appear. These details help health care professionals determine which treatment is best for you.

You should not be driving to the hospital. For life-saving care, call 9-1-1 or your nearest emergency number.

5 Ways To Keep Yourself And Your Baby Healthy During Pregnancy

The best way to protect yourself and have a healthy pregnancy is to be in good health before you get pregnant.

Don't smoke.

Using tobacco products before or during pregnancy raises the risk for stroke.4 If you don't smoke, don't start. Learn how to stop smoking if you smoke.

Be healthy.

This will also help you have healthier blood pressure and blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Aim to lose weight when you are pregnant. Get more information about healthy weight.

Healthy foods are your best bet.

A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts as well low in sodium is a good way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Healthy eating is possible.

Be physically active

Women with healthy pregnancies should get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days.6 Learn more about physical activity during pregnancy.

Collaborate with your healthcare team.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for stroke or other problems during pregnancy. Your health care team will closely monitor your blood pressure and blood sugar throughout your pregnancy.