Birth control pills may have caused woman's stroke

5:41 PM, Nov 10, 2010   |    comments
  • Nicky Reynolds
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RED WING, Minn. -- Women who use birth control pills are warned about their possible side effects.

Doctors say the risks are small but they can happen. A young Hastings woman may be proof.

Nicky Reynolds is learning how to sign her name again, at age 30. She said, "Every time I do it, it looks different." She can't get beyond signing the 'y' in her last name.

Reynolds, a high school business teacher, is trying to recover her fine motor skills after suffering a stroke on Oct. 29.

She described what happened that day. She said, "I sat down at my desk and I had this awful ringing in my ear. I've never felt it before and I thought it would go away and I sat down and the room just started spinning and my whole right side just went limp."

But doctors didn't diagnose stroke right away.

She went first to an emergency room in Red Wing and had a C-T scan. But that scan did not show signs of stroke so doctors sent her home telling her the symptoms may be from migraines. Then she followed up with her family doctor in Woodbury who ordered an MRI. That MRI showed the young, otherwise healthy woman had a stroke.

Doctors at United Hospital in Saint Paul then tried to figure out why she had a stroke. Hospitalist Dr. Tong Pham worked on her case and said, "She doesn't have any of the risk factors we usually associate with stroke such as diabetes, hypertension, family history."

Eventually, he and other doctors narrowed the cause down to - most likely - birth control pills.

Pham said, "It's pretty rare." He continued, "The absolute risk of stroke due to birth control pills is about 11 per 100,000."

But it can happen.

Dr. Pham said while the risk is incredibly small, it's important for women on birth control, and anyone really, to know the signs of stroke by remembering the word FAST. The letter 'F' stands for face. Drooping or numbness of the face can be a sign. The letter 'A' stands for arms and legs. Weakness or numbness in the limbs are another sign. The letter 'S' stands for speech. Strokes can cause problems with speech. And the letter 'T' stands for timing because it's crucial to seek help quickly when you have a stroke.

Reynolds' once clean medical history is clean no more. She said, "I went online to schedule my next appointment and on there it says medical condition, stroke. And that was weird to actually see it in writing."

Reynolds is working on walking because she still has problems with her right leg. And she sorts beans for therapy for her fingers. She said, "It's frustrating but the positive thing is it could be worse."

She's glad she didn't ignore the signs.


So why wasn't Reynolds stroke spotted on the C-T scan? Dr. Pham says MRI's can be better at detecting small strokes than C-T scans.

While a stroke from birth control pills is very rare, the risk is higher for smokers, those with high blood pressure and those over 35.






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