Pregnancy and stroke

Adrian Marchidann MD (

Dr. Marchidann of Kings County Hospital has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Steven R Levine MD, editor. (

Dr. Levine of the SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Originally released June 3, 2003; last updated October 12, 2020; expires October 12, 2023


Stroke during pregnancy is an uncommon but serious cause of morbidity and mortality. In this review, the author discusses the etiologies, diagnostic approaches, and therapeutic challenges of pregnancy-specific ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. This updated article includes revised epidemiologic data, the potential mechanism of preeclampsia, peripartum infection as a risk factor for stroke, moyamoya disease in pregnancy, and the treatment of antiphospholipid syndrome.

Key points


• Because of the change of stroke definition and similarity of symptoms of different conditions associated with pregnancy, the true incidence of ischemic stroke during pregnancy and puerperium is still unknown.


Patent foramen ovale closure may prevent ischemic stroke in young patients, but there is insufficient data on the best approach for women desiring pregnancy or already pregnant.


• Routine testing for hypercoagulable state is not indicated.


• There is an overlap between the mechanism, clinical presentation, and complications of preeclampsia, eclampsia, posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES), and reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS).


• Primary CNS vasculitis is extremely rare during pregnancy.


• Patients with ischemic stroke may benefit from intravenous rt-PA.


• Endovascular thrombectomy may be useful in acute ischemic stroke due to large vessel occlusion.


• Decompressive craniotomy may be lifesaving in patients with venous sinus thrombosis, even in patients with severe edema, herniation, or in coma.

Historical note and terminology

Stroke is one of the important complications of pregnancy. Although the risk of stroke during pregnancy and puerperium is low, it accounts for considerable morbidity and mortality. For the purposes of this review, pregnancy-related stroke refers to all ischemic and hemorrhagic events occurring during the 3 trimesters of pregnancy as well as the first 6 weeks of the postpartum period (puerperium). Stroke is neurologic dysfunction caused by focal cerebral, spinal, or retinal infarction attributable to ischemia or hemorrhage. Therefore, transient neurologic symptoms associated with infarction on MRI, which were attributed to transient ischemic attack (TIA) in the past, are now classified under the category of ischemic stroke (Sacco et al 2013).

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