North Texas

Pregnancy-Related Strokes Increase

North Texas medical experts say there has been an increase in reports of strokes in pregnant women and those who have just given birth.

"Some important risks for increased stroke in a younger population, and in particular pregnant women, include higher rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. All of these are risk factors for stroke and heart attacks in general, and they are all risks that can be treated or controlled," said Dr. Alejandro Magadan, medical director of the Parkland Stroke Program and Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Even though these kinds of strokes are rare, a study featured in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reported a 61.5 percent increase in pregnancy-related strokes from the mid-1990s to 2011.

According to the study, which analyzed data from nearly 82 million hospitalizations of pregnant women, there were 31,000 hospitalizations for stroke over a 17-year period.

"It is very important that if you have risk factors for stroke – such as high blood pressure, obesity or lack of physical exercise – that you talk to your doctor about those risks and implement plans to manage these risks. They are relatively simple problems to manage early on before having a stroke, which is potentially a devastating and life-altering event," Magadan said. "Pregnant women should especially be urged to consult with and follow their doctor's recommendations when it comes to medications, such as those to control blood pressure and, perhaps more importantly, implement healthy diet and exercise regimens."

Hormonal changes cause different stroke symptoms in pregnant women.

One of the more common pregnancy-related strokes is venous sinus thrombosis, or clotting of the blood in veins of the brain.

Symptoms to look for include headaches or vomiting.

Symptoms also can include a sudden, severe and persistent headache, light sensitivity and confusion.

About 10 percent of pregnancy-related strokes occur before delivery, while about 40 percent occur during labor or delivery. The other 50 percent occur within six weeks of the baby's birth.

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