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Health & Pregnancy

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Pregnancy Complications Up Later Stroke Risk

Women With Preeclampsia, Other Common Problems Should Pay Close Attention to Diet, Exercise
WebMD Health News

Sept. 28, 2005 (San Diego) -- Pregnancy complications are a risk factor for stroke later in life, new research shows.

The findings suggest that women at risk for stroke later in life -- based on specific pregnancy complications -- may benefit from early preventive interventions.

The new study showed that women who experienced pregnancy complications were nearly 75% more likely to have a stroke an average of 13.5 years later than women with uncomplicated pregnancies.

Certain common pregnancy problems such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) more than double the risk of having a stroke, says researcher Cheryl Bushnell, MD. Bushnell is an assistant professor of neurology at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Making matters worse, she tells WebMD, is that most of these women have a stroke by the time they turn 40.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.

Preeclampsia is marked by three specific symptoms during pregnancy: water retention (with swelling particularly in the feet, legs, and hands); high blood pressure; and protein in the urine, a sign of possible kidney damage. All three must be present at the same time.

The condition prevents the placenta from receiving enough blood, which can cause your baby to be born very small. It is also one of the leading causes of premature birth. Premature infants have an increased risk of death.

The only real cure is the birth of the baby. "And at that point, we used to think, that's that," Bushnell says. "The problem has resolved."

Early Signals Not to Ignore

What the new findings suggest, she says, is that preeclampsia or other pregnancy complications may be the first sign of cardiovascular disease.

"This may be a signal to these women that they are at higher-than-average risk for stroke or heart attack later in life," Bushnell says.

"Women who have pregnancy complications should pay special attention to things like weight loss and exercise -- all the things we generally recommend to prevent heart disease and stroke."

Also, many of these women have cholesterol levels "that are way out of whack. Their cholesterol should be tested, and if needed, treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins."

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