Every pregnancy carries its risks and some of these risks are known to correlate with an expecting mother’s age. Now, a new study found that pregnancy could double the risk of stroke in younger women, although the risk of stroke generally increases with age. The researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian concluded that this is a much higher risk for pregnant women between the ages of 12 and 34 years old, but also noted that more research needs to be done to better understand the cause of this serious medical condition.
The study’s findings were published in JAMA Neurology — a medical journal that publishes research on the nervous system and neurological diseases — and looked at the factors that are involved in pregnancy-related stroke, specifically age. The research team compared data between both older and younger pregnant and non-pregnant women. They ultimately found that pregnancy-associated stroke occurs in approximately 34 in 100,000 women and concluded that the risk of stroke is significantly higher in younger pregnant women, while the risk is approximately the same for pregnant women older than 35 years old.
For the study, the researchers factored in data from every woman who had been hospitalized for stroke in the state of New York between 2003 and 2012. Of those 19,146 women between the ages of 12 to 55 years old, 797 (or 4.2 percent) of them were pregnant or had recently given birth.
Here's the breakdown of their findings:
As it has previously been believed, the overall incidence of stroke during or just after pregnancy increases with age. The study found that there's a 46.9 in 100,000 chance of it happening in women between the ages of 45 to 55 years old, while the chances of it happening for women between ages of 12 to 24 years old is 14 in 100,000.
But when the research team compared the data between pregnant and non-pregnant women in the same age group, they found the study's youngest group of women (12 to 24 years old) showed that their risk of stroke is more than double than for non-pregnant women of the same age. Specifically, 14 in 100,000 pregnant women had a stroke, compared to the 6.4 in 100,000 non-pregnant women.
And women between the ages of 25 to 34 years old, pregnancy increased the risk of stroke by 1.6 percent. As for women in the older age groups, the risk of stroke was similar in both pregnant and non-pregnant women.
A lead author of the study, Eliza C. Miller wrote:
We have been warning older women that pregnancy may increase their risk of stroke, but this study shows that their stroke risk appears similar to women of the same age who are not pregnant. But in women under 35, pregnancy significantly increased the risk of stroke. In fact, 1 in 5 strokes in women from that age group were related to pregnancy. We need more research to better understand the causes of pregnancy-associated stroke, so that we can identify young women at the highest risk and prevent these devastating events.
While this study's finding are understandably alarming, there are a few warning signs of stroke to look out for, such as facial drooping, arm weakness, dizziness, and speech difficulty. High blood pressure and severe headaches, or migraines, can also act as a warning sign during pregnancy, so it's important to communicate anything that feels off with your doctor or go to a hospital immediately.
Most importantly, medical professionals urge pregnant women to not delay seeking proper treatment because the sooner you seek medical care, there's a much better chance of recovery or for your doctor to intervene.