More women are experiencing strokes during pregnancy or shortly after delivery, according to a study published today in the journal Stroke.
The researchers used data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, the largest collection of nationwide data on hospitalizations, to compare pregnancy-related strokes in women during 2 periods: in 1994-1995 and 2006-2007. They found that although the rate of hospitalization for stroke during delivery stayed steady, the rate of hospitalization for stroke during pregnancy increased by 47% (from 0.15 to 0.22 per 1000 deliveries) and by 83% after delivery during the 12-week postpartum period (from 0.12 to 0.22 per 1000 deliveries).
Most of the increase in pregnancy-related strokes can be explained by increased rates of hypertension and heart disease among pregnant women, according to the authors. Changes in demographics, such as more women having children later in life, and improvements in medical care for women with chronic conditions, such as congential heart disease or autoimmune disorders, may explain why more women are beginning their pregnancies with cardiovascular risk factors, they note.
“When you’re relatively healthy, your stroke risk is not that high,” said Elena V. Kuklina, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, in a statement. “Now 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. Since pregnancy by itself is a risk factor, if you have one of these other stroke risk factors, it doubles the risk.”
The authors say the findings emphasize the need for careful monitoring of cardiovascular risk factors during pregnancy and highlight an area that may warrant further study.