Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the most common medical concern doctors see in their pregnant patients. As many as three percent of all pregnant women experience complications of hypertension at some point during pregnancy. For many women, problems with hypertension go away after delivery but a new study from Canada suggests the worries aren’t over after leaving the delivery room. The risk of stroke occurring later in life may be elevated as high as 40 percent of women who experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Dr. Aravind Ganesh, a neurology resident at Canada’s University of Calgary, led his team of researchers through a systematic review of nine studies that compared hypertension during pregnancy and incidence of stroke in later life. The studies tracked women for as long as 32 years after a pregnancy complicated by hypertension. The evidence across the nine studies consistently pointed to an increased risk of stroke in these study subjects, even when hypertension ended after childbirth.

Hypertension during pregnancy is known to endanger the pregnancy. It can decrease the flow of blood from mother to the placenta, hindering a developing fetus’s blood supply and inducing early labor. The Ganesh study indicates it remains a concern for the woman for the remainder of her life.

Hypertension is the “most important risk factor for stroke,” according to Dr. Michael Hill. Hill is co-chairman of the Canadian Stroke Congress, an annual meeting of the Canadian Stroke Consortium, the Canadian Stroke Network, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. The Ganesh team presented the findings of its study to the Congress on October 18, 2013.

The Ganesh study’s findings emphasize how important it is for women who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy to remain vigilant against it the rest of their lives. The diagnosis of high blood pressure during pregnancy should become an on-going conversation with all healthcare providers encountered throughout a woman’s life.

To minimize the risk of stroke in the future, a woman needs to monitor her blood pressure at all times and alert her physician to any changes she detects. This routine vigilance is meant to be a life-long monitoring system, not limited to pregnancy only.

High cholesterol count and diabetes are other markers that increase the likelihood of stroke. Post-partum women who experienced hypertension during pregnancy are advised to minimize the risk of these conditions by adhering to healthy lifestyle choices.

Source: "High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy Could Elevate the Risk of a Future Stroke." Canadian Stroke Congress. 2013. Web. 4 Nov 2013.