Why Pregnant Women Have More Strokes

Rates of stroke went up 47% for expectant mothers and climbed to 83% in the first three months after delivery. This was the finding that was published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. They cite rising rates of additional risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and gestational diabetes, but didn’t give a plausible explanation. Here’s a story about this study published in the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s a simple explanation: Sleep-breathing problems. Whether it’s obstructive sleep apnea or more likely upper airway resistance syndrome, pregnant women tend to have more frequent breathing pauses, especially as they gain weight. One protective mechanism is through progesterone, which acts as a tongue muscle stimulant, but the forces of upper airway collapse is likely to overwhelm these protective effects. What’s even more striking is that the rate almost doubles immediately postpartum. Remember that progesterone drops soon after delivery, but you’re still left with all that additional weight. We know that obstructive sleep apnea can significantly increase your chances of stroke and heart attacks. There are even reports that suggest that preeclampsia can be successfully treated with CPAP.

Overall, the numbers are still very low, but the sudden rise in the rate of stroke in new mothers leaves researchers scratching their heads.

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