One in ten pregnant women, who suffer preeclampsia -- characterised by high blood pressure, swollen feet, ankles and face and severe headaches -- may be six times more at risk of suffering a stroke during or after childbirth, researchers said.
Preeclampsia -- a high-blood pressure disorder unique to pregnancy -- develops in about 3 to 8 per cent of all pregnant women.
The study showed that certain conditions like chronic hypertension, bleeding disorders or urinary tract infections may increase the risk of stroke in women with preeclampsia.
Pregnancy-associated stroke occurs up to 6 times more often in women with preeclampsia compared with pregnant women overall.
"Women with preeclampsia who had chronic hypertension, bleeding or clotting disorders, or infections -- particularly urinary tract infections -- appeared to be at significantly increased risk of stroke," said lead author Eliza C. Miller, postdoctoral student at Columbia University in the US.
Infections cause inflammation, which is known to play an important role in triggering stroke, especially in young people.
Preeclampsia itself is an inflammatory disorder. Infections may be what pushed some of these women over the edge, the researchers explained.
For the study, published in the journal Stroke, the team analysed the health records of 197 women who had a preeclampsia-related stroke and 591 women with preeclampsia who did not have a stroke.
The incidence of stroke in women with preeclampsia was over 200 per 100,000 deliveries, and more than one in 10 women in the study who had a preeclampsia-related stroke died in the hospital.
"It's important to note that the risk of stroke in women with preeclampsia doesn't end with delivery, as is commonly thought. Nearly two-thirds of preeclampsia-related strokes occur after birth, when the mother has gone home," Miller said.
"Women with preeclampsia should take any neurological symptoms, such as severe headache, very seriously, especially during the postpartum period," she suggested.