Pregnancy Complications Up Later Stroke Risk
Women With Preeclampsia, Other Common Problems Should Pay Close Attention to Diet, Exercise
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
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
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
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,"
"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."
Heavy Bleeding During Birth Also a Major Risk
The study included 162 women who had a stroke more than six weeks after
giving birth and 306 women who did not have a stroke after pregnancy. The women
were an average of 26 to 27 years old when they gave birth.
The researchers then looked to see how many of the women in each group had
the following pregnancy complications: abruption, in which the lining of the
placental wall is damaged and bleeds and the women need to be put on complete
bed rest until they give birth; preeclampsia; postpartum hemorrhage, in which
is there is a large loss of blood at the time of delivery; or pregnancy-related