According to researchers at the Loyola University Health System, women who are pregnant are at a significantly increased risk of stroke compared to women who are not pregnant. The study revealed pregnant women are 2.4 times more likely to have a stroke. These findings are significant, especially for women with other risk factors that increase the risk of stroke such as high blood pressure and obesity.
Pregnant women are already at higher risk of increased blood pressure. At every prenatal office visit, blood pressure readings are taken to establish a baseline and measure any changes in blood pressure. Typically, severe blood pressure changes later in pregnancy are associated with increased risk of preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition of pregnancy.
High blood pressure is diagnosed after two blood pressure readings taken  with a six hour interval. The top number must be more than 140 on both occasions. The bottom number must be more than 90 on both occasions. In many cases, protein is also found in urine during a regular urine screening at the prenatal visit. If more than 300 mg of protein is found in the urine within a 24 hour period, this is a red flag.

Risk factors for preeclampsia may present as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy. If the attending obstetrician believes the pregnant women is in the high risk factor, treatments can be suggested to decrease risk of preeclampsia and increase chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.

Why the focus on preeclampsia when the study is about stroke risk? Women who present with preeclampsia risk factors or symptoms are at increased risk for stroke. Women who suffer from preeclampsia are not just at increased risk for stroke during pregnancy, but after birth as well.

Identifying preeclampsia before symptoms begin is an important topic of research studies. If a definitive test were found, doctors could prepare for  preeclampsia and increased risk of stroke before symptoms begin.

The study was published in Women's Health Journal.
 Sarkis Morales-Vidal, M.D.; Michael Schneck, M.D.; Murray Flaster,
M.D.; and Jose Biller, M.D. Department of Neurology of Loyola University
 Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. 7 July, 2011.