About a month ago, my good friend had the scare of a lifetime when she suffered a massive stroke. Strokes are a serious medical emergency at any age, but for a woman under 30 in seemingly perfect health, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. Who would have thought her birth control was the problem?
- Her day was nothing out of the ordinary. She clocked out of work and headed down to the softball fields, just like she does every Wednesday. She was warming up just before her club softball game when her sister started to notice something was off. Every time Sam went to catch a ball, it just hit her glove and fell back out. It was like she had no control over her hand. About 10 minutes later, she started having trouble forming sentences and even began to drool a bit.
- Her sister immediately recognized the signs of a stroke, but everyone else thought she was overreacting. Once Sam* made the unusual decision to sit out for the first game, her sister knew she needed to go the hospital. Sam was walking and talking completely normally at this point, but as soon as she checked in to the ER, they rushed her back for immediate care.
- Although she appeared to be fine, doctors were just as concerned as we were. They spent days running different tests and scans and ultimately concluded that my friend did indeed have a massive stroke. On Thursday, she was showing some signs of nerve damage when a droop underneath her eye and lag in her smile appeared. Thankfully, those signs were only temporary and she was left with no internal or external damage.
- She was eventually released from the hospital but had no answers to what had triggered the stroke. After countless days of running tests and around-the-clock monitoring, doctors could find no explanation as to what caused the stroke. They were still waiting on a few lab tests to return, but her massive stroke at the age of 28 remained a mystery. How could this be?
- A follow-up at her family doctor delivered a shocking blow. Upon arriving for her appointment, the receptionist mentioned that Sam’s lab results showed a rare blood disorder. The receptionist went on to explain that her sister also had the blood disorder, and it caused her several miscarriages. When Sam went in to see her doctor, he showed no concern for the disorder. In fact, he didn’t even mention it as a possible cause for the stroke.
- Upon further research, she discovered that birth control was the culprit. A mutual friend who practices medicine at a different office showed extreme concern for Sam’s health. She conducted her own medical research and discovered that when combined with high levels of estrogen, Sam’s blood disorder is known for causing clots. And what causes abnormally high levels of estrogen? Birth control and pregnancy. Ding ding ding.
- Instantly, she became concerned about her future. She was engaged and ready to start a family. Would the receptionist’s story become her same misfortune? What if she couldn’t get pregnant? And if she did, would she suffer a miscarriage or another stroke? She felt helpless and out of control. There was one factor she could control, though, and that was to immediately stop taking birth control.
- As she began to discuss her experience more openly, she discovered that she was not alone. Apparently, strokes are becoming increasingly common in young women. More and more women are being hospitalized for similar symptoms, all caused by a tiny pill. In fact, birth control pills now contain higher levels of estrogen and progestin than ever before. This increase was made to become more useful in preventing unwanted pregnancy but it’s also putting more woman at risk for other health complications.
- If serious health concerns are becoming increasingly common due to birth control, why aren’t we being informed? Getting on birth control is as easy as asking your doctor to be put on the pill and your doctor writing a prescription. Shouldn’t there be more of a process? We’re informed of potential side effects such as weight gain, acne flare-ups, and mood swings, but shouldn’t we also be warned about the more serious ones? Shouldn’t we be tested for possible disorders that could harm our bodies before getting on the pill? And in Sam’s case, why didn’t her doctor see birth control as a concern?
- Sam was very lucky, but other women may not be as fortunate. If anything, let Sam’s experience be an eye-opener as to how serious birth control is. Just because your doctor prescribes you the pill, don’t assume it’s right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for a full list of side effects, minor and life-threatening, before taking it. Don’t be afraid to demand blood work even if you’re already on the pill. These precautions may seem extreme, but it might just save your life. It’s important to remember that Sam’s case was not typical and not every woman on birth control is at risk for a stroke, but it could happen to anyone.
* Not her real name