Out of every 100,000 women having babies, two to 70 of them will have strokes, depending on the source of information. This may make strokes seem rare, but it means that each year several thousand women in the United States have a stroke either while they are pregnant or in the first few weeks following delivery. Importantly, strokes cause 10 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths.
About 10 percent of strokes happen before delivery, while 40 percent happen during labor or with delivery. The other half occur after the baby’s birth, typically within six weeks of delivery.
Symptoms during pregnancy
The typical warning signs of stroke are facial drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. You should go to the hospital immediately if you experience those symptoms.
These symptoms may be related to other conditions that occur during pregnancy. Inflammation of the facial nerve or Bell’s palsy may cause facial muscles to droop. Carpal tunnel syndrome is very common during pregnancy and can cause tingling and weakness in the inner portion of the hand, but not the arm.
Other symptoms of stroke during pregnancy are severe headache, seizures, or weakness on one side or other parts of the body. It is important to seek medical attention should you develop these symptoms, so a physician can decide their cause.
Some of the risk factors for stroke in pregnancy are the same as the general public – older age, obesity, migraines, smoking, and heart disease.
But some risk factors are specific to pregnancy. They include gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), and increased bleeding after giving birth. Hypertension is especially important, given that one-third of pregnancy-related strokes are associated with elevated blood pressure.
Reducing your risk
If you have risk factors for stroke, follow your doctor’s recommendations on the use of medications to control blood pressure or of blood thinners to reduce the chance of forming blood clots.
If you develop any symptoms, don’t delay reporting them to your doctor or going to the hospital. This is especially important after you are home after having the baby, since women are frequently sleep-deprived and caught up in the care of the newborn, ignoring their own health.
The sooner you seek medical care, the better your chance of recovery.
UT Southwestern is the only Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center in north Texas and one of only two certified by the Joint Commission in Texas. It is the only dual-certified hospital system in the nation. That means you have access to top-rated specialists, should complications arise when you’re pregnant or after you’ve given birth.
To make an appointment, you can fill out the Request an Appointment form or by calling 214-645-8300.