New Delhi: Experts warned that one in six people are at risk of experiencing a stroke in their lifetime. It is the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of adult disability. Yet, a study reported that the risk of a type of stroke that causes bleeding in the brain is higher among women during pregnancy and in the weeks following the delivery. The report suggested that women have an increased risk for stroke-causing blood clots during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and have three times the risk of intracerebral hemorrhage compared to those who are not pregnant.
A review of stroke in pregnancy showed that the approximate rate of pregnancy-related stroke stands at 30 per 100,000 pregnancies. While it may not be that common, it is a matter of concern for women and neonatal health that needs to be addressed at the earliest.
Deciphering the signs of pregnancy-related stroke
According to Dr Prabha Ramakrishna, Senior Consultant & Head – Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, the key stroke symptoms during or immediately after pregnancy may include the following:
Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
Trouble while speaking or difficulty in understanding speech Sudden difficulty in seeing, walking
Lack of coordination and sudden severe headache without a known cause.
Risk factors leading to pregnancy-induced stroke
“With the increasing prevalence of obesity, pregnant women are found to be at a greater risk of getting hit by a stroke during the gestational period or immediately after delivery. Apart from being overweight, other risk factors of pregnancy-related stroke include hypertension, diabetes, valvular heart disease, hypercoagulable disorders, sickle cell disease, lupus, abuse of tobacco and other substances and migraines,” added the doctor.
High blood pressure during pregnancy: It is one of the primary and leading risk factors that may lead to stroke during pregnancy. Interestingly, women with otherwise healthy blood pressure levels may develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. This may result in a stroke among pregnant women or women who have recently given birth.
Preeclampsia: It is a severe kind of high blood pressure during pregnancy and can cause vision problems, headaches, swelling in the hands and face, premature delivery, and a baby with low birth weight. Severe preeclampsia may also cause seizures and lead to stroke during or after pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes: Women with gestational diabetes, a condition where women develop problems with blood sugar during pregnancy, are more prone to developing high blood pressure during pregnancy and stroke, in severe cases.
Blood clots: Being pregnant makes the blood more likely to clot and this can lead to stroke. Pregnancy may lead to swelling in certain parts that curb the blood flow, typically to the lower legs. When there’s less blood circulation, the chances of developing blood clots get higher. Also, towards the end of pregnancy, the body produces a substance that helps the blood to clot. While that reduces the chance of excessive bleeding while delivery, it also increases the risk of getting a stroke.
Ways to prevent stroke during pregnancy
Here are a few tips suggested by the doctor that women can follow to reduce their risk of stroke and have a healthy pregnancy:
Quit smoking: Using tobacco products before or during pregnancy may increase the risk of stroke. It is essential to quit smoking at that time.
Maintain healthy body weight: It is important to aim for a healthy body weight during pregnancy. Keep your weight in check to maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
Eat a healthy diet: Have a diet that is rich in whole grains, nuts, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables and low in sodium that can support healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Be physically active: About 30 minutes of moderate exercise and activities are a must for pregnant women to have healthy pregnancies.
Coordinate well with the healthcare team: One must talk to the doctor about the risk of stroke or other problems at the time of pregnancy and should monitor blood pressure and blood sugar well throughout the pregnancy.
Pregnancy in every woman is a phase that comes with immense happiness and excitement and a lot of fear. It is a stage where a woman has to be extra cautious about both her physical and mental health and must be aware of an imminent risk that may affect her baby inside the womb.