Pregnancy And Stroke - Blood Clot Risk Factors

Deanne Stein Health Guide
  • I feel like I’m in a no-win situation. I talked last time about pregnancy and the dangers of my blood thinning medication, Coumadin, on a newborn baby. The fact is, I’m also worried about the effect pregnancy could have on me.

    My doctor said I had abnormally thick blood. That coupled with the birth control pills I was taking, caused the blood clot behind my left ear, resulting in my stroke. I obviously cannot take birth pills anymore, so I wonder why would I risk my health and become pregnant. I mean birth control pills basically trick your body into thinking it’s pregnant.

    The risk of stroke is actually lower while on the pill than being pregnant. In fact, there is a very slight risk of developing blood clots in the legs, but much less than the risk during pregnancy. Among women who do not take the pill, 5 per 100,000 women per year develop blood clots. Among women who do take the pill, the risk slightly increases to 15-20 per 100,000 women per year. For women who are pregnant, the risk of developing blood clots is 60 per 100,000 women per year. So you may be surprised to learn that having a child is twice as dangerous as using the birth control pill.
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    However, my doctor told me women with prior stroke have a 1% to 2% risk of a stroke recurrence in pregnancy. Especially, since I would remain on blood thinning medication throughout my pregnancy. But, I guess I still worry. I mean the fact I had a stroke it the first place, with very few risk factors, gives me cause for alarm. I feel with my luck I would be in that 1% of stroke sufferers while pregnant.

    So, I asked my doctor for a guarantee and he said he just couldn’t give me one. The way he described it was “You’re fine until you’re not.” He meant a stroke would hit me fast like before and that there was no way to know if it were to happen.

    Pregnant women can also develop preeclampsia. This is a condition that includes abnormally high blood pressure. Women with this condition run the risk of having a stroke during pregnancy. Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also report that preeclampsia is also a risk factor for stroke in the future.

    Some symptoms of preeclamsia or “toxemia of pregnancy” are very high blood pressure with rapid weight gain, swollen ankles and protein in the urine. This condition affects the blood vessels, kidneys, liver and brain. Decreased blood flow through the placenta also occurs in pre-eclampsia and can lead to slower growth in the uterus and loss of the fetus. In fact, pre-eclampsia is the leading cause of premature birth in the United States. Pre-eclampsia is a serious complication of pregnancy. It requires immediate medical attention. It can progress to a life-threatening condition called eclampsia. Visual disturbances, severe headaches and abdominal pain usually precede eclampsia.

    Luckily, I’ve never had high blood pressure. Even with my first pregnancy, besides excessive morning sickness, I had no real problems. Of course, that was pre-stroke and almost 13 years ago. Deep down, I think I will be okay with a second pregnancy, but part of me is still hesitant, so much, I just can’t bite the bullet and do it yet.

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Published On: November 28, 2006