AHA logoEarlier, strokes during pregnancy weren’t common enough to be a cause of concern. Although, experts observe an alarming increase in the rate of strokes throughout the pregnancy period over the past dozen years.

This report is based on study which used the national database of 5 to 8 million discharges from 1000 hospitals. Stroke rates spanning the period of 1994-95 to 2006-07, in women who were pregnant, delivering a child, or had just delivered, were compared. From 4,085 in 1994-95 to 6,293 in 2006-07, it was observed that pregnancy-related stroke hospitalizations had increased by 54 percent. Also, the stroke rate in pregnant women and those in their post-partum period had risen by 83 percent and in expectant mothers by 47 percent. However, it was the same for during the time around childbirth.

“I am surprised at the magnitude of the increase, which is substantial. Our results indicate an urgent need to take a closer look. Stroke is such a debilitating condition. We need to put more effort into prevention,” said Elena V. Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and senior service fellow and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. “When you’re relatively healthy, your stroke risk is not that high. 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.”

According to the study, high blood pressure was found in 11.3 percent of pregnant women in 1994-95 which rose to 17 percent in 2006-07. For those near or at delivery, it was found to be 23.4 percent in 1994-95 as compared to 28.5 percent in 2006-07. In their post-partum period, during 1994-95, 27.8 percent women were suffering from hypertension which increased to 40.9 percent during 2006-07.

Dr. Kuklina advises that it’s best for women to enter the pregnancy phase only after it is ensured that they are free from any cardiovascular conditions, thus avoiding any additional risk factors. She suggests the development of an all-inclusive, multidisciplinary plan which provides guidelines for doctors and patients so that appropriate care is taken throughout pregnancy. Also, she feels that the inclusion of pregnant women in several researches would help.

The study is published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.