Stroke Symptoms in Pregnancy

A pregnant woman. Photo: Ian Waldie / Getty Images

While it is not common, a stroke can occur during or shortly after pregnancy. In general, the symptoms of a stroke during or after pregnancy are similar to the symptoms of any other stroke. However, some of the specific stroke symptoms during or after pregnancy can be a little different.

Strokes During Pregnancy

Young women of child bearing age are at a low risk of stroke. However, during and shortly after pregnancy, hormonal changes can make some women slightly more prone to blood clots, which increases the chances of a stroke. These hormonal changes occur during pregnancy and for several weeks after delivery, a time that is described as the post partum period.

Women who have blood clotting problems, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, or heart disease, have a higher risk of stroke, particularly during pregnancy and the post partum period.

Strokes are typically interruptions of blood flow through an artery that supplies blood to a region of the brain. These interruptions cause a disruption in function of the affected region. During pregnancy, women can develop blood clots that disrupt blood flow in the arteries, and they can also experience blood clots in the veins of the brain. Blood clots in veins of the brain are rare for people who are not pregnant, and they are called cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) or sinus thrombosis. The most common sinus thromboses are sagittal sinus thrombosis and dural sinus thrombosis. Hemorrhagic strokes, which are bleeds in the brain, can also occur during pregancy.

Symptoms of Stroke During and After Pregnancy

Because women can experience arterial stroke as well as venous strokes during pregnancy and the post partum period, there are a variety of stroke signs and symptoms that women should be aware of at these times.

Symptoms of strokes during pregnancy and the post partum period include:

  • Neurological deficits: Traditionally, a stroke can cause weakness of one side of the body, numbness, sensory loss, vision changes, trouble speaking or understanding language, confusion, or loss of balance and coordination. Any combination of these symptoms may occur intermittently, signaling that a stroke is likely to happen, or suddenly, signalling that a stroke is occurring.
  • Headache: A headache that doesn't go away can be a sign of stroke. This may be the main symptom in strokes caused by CVT. Typically, headaches associated with stroke are more intense, or last much longer, than your regular headaches. You should go to the emergency room if you have such a headache or if your headache is accompanied by double vision, weakness or numbness. Another kind of headache that you should not ignore is called a thunderclap headache, which is a sudden headache that feels particularly intense.
  • Dizziness or Vertigo: Dizziness may be the first sign of a stroke. However, not all dizziness is something to be concerned about. Dizziness that is accompanied by severe vomiting, vision changes, slurred speech, or loss of balance may be the sign of a stroke or another medical emergency.
  • Double Vision: Double vision can occur with an arterial stroke or a CVT, and is usually accompanied by headache.
  • Blurry Vision: Because of the occipital lobe, which processes the sense of vision in our brain is located in the back areas of the brain, high blood pressure in a pregnant woman can lead to blurry vision. This usually occurs as a result of reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome (RPLS).
  • Seizures: Seizures can occur due to the brain injury of a stroke. In rare instances, seizures are the first sign of a stroke. Seizures can be a symptom of RPLS and hemorrhagic strokes, both of which can happen as a result of sudden and extreme high blood pressure during a high risk pregnancy.
  • Confusion and Lethargy: Severe bleeding or swelling inside the brain can lead to extreme sleepiness and/or confusion. This can happen due to RPLS, CVT, high blood pressure, and other forms of stroke in pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

A stroke during pregnancy is a serious medical emergency. Prompt medical attention can improve the outcome for the baby and the mother. If you experience any unusual neurological symptoms during your pregnancy or the post partum period, you should seek medical attention right away. 

Another rare event, a stroke in a newborn baby, can cause subtle symptoms for a pregnant mother, including dizziness, palpitations, high blood pressure and loss of consciousness. Most of the time, symptoms during pregnancy are not signs of something serious or dangerous, but it is best to get medical attention right away if you experience any uncomfortable, concerning, or unusual symptoms.

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