Transient Ischemic Attack While Taking Birth Control Pills

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I was 24 years old, married, and had moved into our first house the summer before. I was healthy and active. I had even completed a marathon the year before, though that had been a big stretch for me with LOTS of training. I’m active, not an athlete. Being healthy, I did not expect to have a transient ischemic attack–a precursor of a stroke.

It was April 2005. I had been married 3 months shy of 3 years and had been using oral contraceptives (ortho tri cyclen) for almost exactly 3 years. I loved being on birth control – it made me feel grown up, I had clearer skin, and super easy periods. No one had ever told me that I wasn’t getting an actual period on oral contraceptives, that is was just a withdrawal bleed, because my body was no longer making my own hormones. Had I known that plus the risks, I would have looked for alternatives. But none were presented to me when I went on the pill in April 2002.

A Terrifying Episode

It was an early morning in April 2005, around 6am. I was just about to head out the door for work and was sitting down to tie my shoe. I clearly remember holding the “bunny ear” with my right hand expecting my left hand to follow protocol and loop around, a simple task repeated mindlessly thousands of times. But my left arm just swung into my shoe.

I remember thinking how strange and alarming that was, and tried again. But my left hand swung again into my foot like a pendulum swinging from the shoulder, no control or response from my fingers, wrist or anything below my shoulder. Concerned and a bit afraid I called for my husband, but my words didn’t come out right. They were muffled and my voice was deeper, without enunciation or clarity. I stood to go to him but collapsed on the floor. I didn’t feel any pain and hadn’t noticed any symptoms prior to the episode but it was all very terrifying!

The Diagnosis: A Transient Ischemic Attack

It was over quickly, in less than 30 seconds, and everything went back to normal. However, I went to the ER because I had absolutely no idea what was going on. They did a variety of tests, not all of which I remember now. I do remember an ultrasound of my heart and a CT scan. After release, I was referred to a neurologist, had an MRI, and some procedure where they went down my throat with a camera to look at my heart. Overall, I feel like all the doctors did a great job of ruling out every possibility.

I can’t remember when the final diagnosis was reached, but it didn’t take too long. It was diagnosed as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is just like a stroke, where a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, except with a TIA that the blockage is transient and goes away on its own. These episodes serve as a warning sign that a stroke is going to happen. The doctors told me to stop taking birth control and to be wary of any hormonal replacement/interference in the future. I have stayed clear since then and have never had anything of the like happen again.

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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