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What Causes a Stroke After Childbirth?

Cropped shot of a confident female doctor checking the blood pressure of a pregnant patient at a hospital during the day.

While strokes after childbirth are typically rare during pregnancy, the postpartum period often comes with potential risks of a stroke. These strokes, which can lead to maternal death, typically include:

  • Hemorrhagic: These are caused by ruptured brain vessels and can lead to brain cell damage. They mainly occur as intracerebral or subarachnoid hemorrhage, often due to high blood pressure or aneurysms.
  • Ischemic: These result from clots in brain arteries. Risk factors typically include high blood pressure and heart disorders.

Risk factors for stroke after childbirth

The risk peaks in the two weeks post-childbirth and may extend for over 12 weeks. Around 30 in 100,000 deliveries experience a stroke. The highest incidence (1 in 500 births) exists in those with preeclampsia, which is characterized by newly elevated blood pressure during pregnancy.

Several medical conditions heighten stroke risk during pregnancy. These include:

  • Migraine headaches.
  • Vascular conditions.
  • Lupus.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Pre-pregnancy hypertension.
  • Gestational diabetes.

Contrary to common belief, older age does not necessarily increase stroke risk during pregnancy. Research from Columbia University indicates that older pregnant women face similar stroke risks as non-pregnant women of the same age. Notably, 20% of strokes in women under 35 are pregnancy-related.

For those at elevated risk, doctors may suggest a low dose of Aspirin during pregnancy. Pregnant women, especially those with risk factors, should be advised of stroke prevention by their healthcare provider to ensure both the safety of the mother and their unborn child.

How pregnancy can increase the risk of a stroke

Understanding how pregnancy can increase the risk of a stroke after childbirth is key to taking preventative measures. Below are three of the most common ways pregnancy increases the risk of a stroke.

1. Hormonal changes

Pregnancy hormones, particularly estrogen, can cause blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow. This can lead to changes in blood pressure and potentially stress the vascular system.

Hormones can also affect the regulation of blood pressure. Some women develop gestational hypertension (high blood pressure during pregnancy) or preeclampsia, a more severe form of high blood pressure accompanied by other symptoms.

2. Hypertensive pregnancy disorders

One key factor is inflammation, particularly in cases of preeclampsia. This condition, marked by inflammation, significantly raises stroke risk both during and after pregnancy. Research from Columbia University shows that it's prevalent in those with chronic hypertension.

For patients with a history of hypertension in pregnancy, the postpartum period poses the highest stroke risk, especially if blood pressure isn't well-managed. That's why vigilant monitoring and treatment of blood pressure post-delivery is important.

3. Blood clotting

Blood clotting is another concern. Research from Weill Cornell Medicine indicates a heightened risk of serious blood clot formation up to 12 weeks postpartum, with the first six weeks being particularly critical. Pregnant women's blood is more prone to clotting to minimize labor and childbirth-related blood loss. While the overall risk remains low, those predisposed to blood clots might require blood thinners during the postpartum phase.

However, recommendations for blood thinners are tailored to individual risk factors, meaning not everyone at risk will need them. It's important for patients to discuss their specific risks and preventive strategies with their healthcare provider to ensure safe and effective management of these risks during and after pregnancy.

Common symptoms of a stroke after childbirth

If you recently gave birth, it's important to recognize the symptoms of a stroke after childbirth. Knowing these symptoms enables you to get prompt medical attention to address the condition:

  • Sudden numbness and weakness (often on one side of the body).
  • Dizziness and difficulty walking.
  • Vision loss in one or both eyes.
  • Abrupt severe headaches.
  • Slurred speech or trouble talking.

Postpartum stroke and medical malpractice

Many maternal deaths are preventable. Hospitals and other medical facilities have an obligation to follow medical guidelines and provide adequate maternal treatment, both before and after birth. If they failed to properly diagnose, treat, or monitor the conditions that led to a stroke, speak to an experienced Cleveland birth injury lawyer as soon as possible.

The Lancione Law Firm can launch a thorough investigation to identify the negligence of hospital staff. Our legal team has extensive experience building strong birth injury cases for our clients and securing maximum compensation. We offer free consultations so you can explore your legal options and get honest answers to any questions you have. To learn more, contact us online or call our Cleveland office.

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