Stroke After 23 Years on Birth Control Pills

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Stroke on hormonal birth control
My name is Detrease Harrison and I am 46 years old.  A month after my 44th birthday I survived a stroke in my sleep. I didn’t smoke or drink. I just happen to be an African-American, and we are TWICE as likely to have a stroke. I was also taking Ortho Novum 7/7/7, a birth control pill that increases the risk of stroke. I had been taking Ortho Novum for 23 years prior to my stroke.

I got out of bed that morning and collapsed. By the grace of God, my mother happened to call. I told her I had fallen, and her quick thinking to dial 911 saved my life. I didn’t understand why I had fallen and I went back to sleep on the floor. Now I realize that it was weakness resulting from the stroke that had caused me to fall. At the time when I got to the hospital, I had facial droop and difficulty speaking. I had a CT scan and my stroke was quickly diagnosed. My doctors said it had been caused by my birth control pills and took me off the pills immediately.

I had a thrombectomy to remove the blood clot, and then was sedated for several days as I recovered. I was hospitalized for 44 days in total. I had the support and love of family and friends who encouraged me to relearn how to walk, dress myself, and sit without falling over. I have been lucky with excellent rehabilitation services in a comprehensive stroke unit at a hospital near me.

I would have to say my biggest motivation to get better was my dog Scooter and the Dallas Cowboys. See, my fan club was going to the Cowboys game in Nashville Tennessee and I wanted to go too. It was the first time I would be leaving the safety and comfort of my mother’s care since my hospital discharge and be on my own, something I had done many times before in my 44 years. With my neurologist’s permission and my friend Kim at my side, I packed a bag and boarded a plane to Nashville.  I tailgated and cheered my Cowboys to victory from my wheelchair. A text message from Jason Witten and a tweet from Dez Bryant were the motivation that I needed to continue doing the things I enjoy doing.

My stroke recovery has not limited me at all. I am back to work as a full-time accountant at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Friends make sure that I still attend all of the happenings in Richmond.

I did not realize that I was at risk of having a stroke because of my birth control pills. Now that I know more about it, I realize that I may have been having transient ischemic attacks (TIA) for about 6 months prior to my stroke. A TIA is just like a stroke, except that the blockage is transient. These episodes serve as a warning sign that a stroke is going to happen, except that I was not aware of this at the time. I had been having episodes of dizziness and headaches leading up to my stroke, and since my stroke I have not had any of these episodes.

In closing, I would like to say that I am here today because of my mother’s quick thinking. I had no idea why I couldn’t get up from the floor that morning and I’m not sure I would’ve called the paramedics. But time equals brain.  So know the stroke symptoms and get help immediately. Don’t wait to feel better. You must be your biggest health advocate, and if something doesn’t feel right go to the doctor.  I used to tell people I had no risk factors for having a blood clot, but almost everyone has some kind of risk factor.

Real Risk Study: Birth Control and Blood Clots

Lucine Health Sciences and Hormones Matter are conducting research to investigate the relationship between hormonal birth control and blood clots. If you or a loved one have suffered from a blood clot while using hormonal birth control, please consider participating. We are also looking for participants who have been using hormonal birth control for at least one year and have NOT had a blood clot, as well as women who have NEVER used hormonal birth control. For more information or to participate, click here.

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