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Local News

A Spotlight on Stroke Risks for Pregnant Women

Credit: iStock

Mike Moen

Research has emerged about the link between pregnancy complications and a higher risk of stroke, and a Wisconsin health expert suggested it is a risk which might be flying under the radar amid positive trends for other populations.

May is American Stroke Awareness Month, and it is also National Women’s Health Week.

study out this year noted women with two or more complicated pregnancies had double the risk for stroke before age 45.

Cassie Nankee, vascular neurologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said it shows while there has been brighter news on this front for the public, pregnant women are isolated.

“Even more striking is that the prevalence of maternal stroke is higher in the U.S. than in any other developed nation,” Nankee pointed out. “I think that’s where we’re seeing a lot of this data coming out and really demonstrating this huge problem.”

Nankee acknowledged prevention efforts, such as limiting tobacco use, have helped to reduce stroke rates more broadly, but added there are unique and traditional risk factors for pregnant women, including higher blood pressure rates, which still need to be monitored. She encouraged providers to offer plenty of support and education to patients about these risks.

Nankee, who is also an American Heart Association board member, said when interacting with new or expectant mothers, doctors should offer a safe space, allowing the patients to open up about their health.

“It’s the responsibility of the providers to take the time to listen to their patients,” Nankee emphasized. “Even if it seems like a relatively small concern, we need to validate these patients.”

Nankee added most strokes occur in the postpartum period and policymakers could cover a lot of ground by extending Medicaid coverage to postnatal mothers.

“A lot of women are not even cleared to go back to regular activity and are oftentimes not even back to work in that period, and they lose their insurance coverage,” Nankee noted. “This can be a really big problem with a significant impact on these women.”

bipartisan bill in the Wisconsin Legislature would extend coverage for up to a year. At the moment, Medicaid coverage runs for 60 days after a birth. It is unclear if the plan will be adopted in final budget talks.

Disclosure: The American Heart Association of Wisconsin contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, and Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

This story was written by Mike Moen, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.