, Volume 245, Issue 6-7, pp 305-313

Stroke in pregnancy and the puerperium

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Abstract

Recent studies suggest that the risk of cerebral infarction is increased during the puerperium but not during pregnancy itself. Most of the known causes of ischaemic stroke in the young have been reported during pregnancy. In most of these conditions, it is uncertain whether pregnancy is coincidental or plays a role in the occurrence of stroke. Eclampsia is the main pregnancy-specific cause, which may be associated with focal neurological deficits of sudden onset, consistent with a clinical diagnosis of stroke. However, the precise pathogenesis of these stroke-like focal deficits remains poorly understood. The two other pregnancy-specific conditions (choriocarcinoma and amniotic fluid embolism) are rarely responsible for focal cerebral ischaemia. In a significant number of patients, the cause of the stroke remains undetermined, despite an extensive aetiological investigation. Whether a hypercoagulable state and vessel wall changes associated with pregnancy may play a role in the occurrence of these otherwise unexplained ischaemic strokes remains unknown. The occurrence of cerebral venous thrombosis is clearly linked to the puerperal state, suggesting a direct role of the latter. However, cerebral venous thrombosis during pregnancy or the puerperium has been related to various aetiologies, stressing the need for an aetiological study, particularly when the thrombosis occurs during pregnancy. Pregnancy may increase the risk of subarachnoid haemorrhage, The most common cause is rupture of an arterial aneurysm. Although this is a controversial issue, the increased tendency of an aneurysm to bleed with advancing gestational age suggests that haemodynamic, hormonal or other physiological changes of pregnancy may play a role in aneurysmal rupture. The classic notion that rupture of an arterial aneurysm occurs more frequently during labour has not been confirmed. Most authors agree that surgical management after subarachnoid haemorrhage in pregnancy should be the same as that in the non-pregnant state. Data specifically devoted to intraparenchymal haemorrhage in pregnancy are scarce. Pregnancy and in particular the puerperium seem to be associated with an increased risk of intracerebral haemorrhage. The most common causes are eclampsia and ruptured vascular malformations. Whether pregnancy increases the risk of rupture of an arteriovenous malformation is controversial.

Received: 30 September: 1997 Accepted: 27 October 1997