Stroke of Misfortune

High blood pressure syndromes lead to stroke in pregnant women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Pregnant women are at an increased risk for a number of possible diseases and conditions. A new study suggests that they may also be at a heightened risk for heart disease due to high blood pressure syndromes.

A top concern, discovered by Loyola Health System researchers, is that pregnant women may face a stroke risk that is 2.4 times higher than women who are not pregnant as a result of high blood pressure.

"Monitor your blood pressure regularly while pregnant."

High blood pressure during pregnancy is considered the leading cause of maternal and fetal mortality worldwide. Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure syndromes include preeclampsia, eclampsia and a rare but serious illness called HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count).

The research indicates that taking aspirin when a woman is between 12 to 14 weeks pregnant may decrease the risk of developing preeclampsia. No other treatments have been shown to reduce risk. However, all pregnant women should consult with their physician before starting any medication regimen.

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and proteinuria, excess protein in the urine. If untreated, it can cause serious complications that could be fatal to the mother or baby. In severe cases, symptoms include reduced urine output, fluid in the lungs, liver dysfunction and brain abnormalities.

It can later progress to eclampsia or HELLP. Preeclampsia develops into eclampsia when convulsive seizures occur or the patient goes into a coma. HELLP causes bleeding, liver problems and high blood pressure. Women who have preeclampsia are also at higher risk for future stroke and cardiovascular disease, the research revealed.

Dr. Sarkis Morales-Vidal, with the department of neurology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, wrote that identifying patients at risk of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure syndrome remains "a major research focus." About 5 percent of all pregnant woman in the United States die from stroke.

The review was published in the journal Women's Health. Morales-Vidal drew the study conclusions from reviewing more than 50 studies on a range of topics including hypertension, preeclampsia and stroke.

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Review Date: 
July 9, 2011
Last Updated:
July 13, 2011