- Jenna Goldman had ocular migraines and was on birth control pills. Both increase the risk of stroke.
- She didn’t know this until after she had suffered a stroke that left her numb on one side.
- Now 28, she shared her experience with Insider to raise awareness about the risk of stroke in young women.
The first time Jenna Goldman experienced a blinding headache, she was sitting at her first job out of college in New York. She stumbled out of the office, hailed a taxi and drove herself to the hospital. There, the doctors told her that she had ocular migraines and that everything would be fine with some medicine and rest.
One of the next times she was struck by such a migraine, Goldman was walking with her now-husband Jason in the city’s Soho neighborhood. By then, they knew the drill: “Bring me home, put a cloth over my head, sit in a dark room for a few hours and just relax,” says Goldman, now 28. marketing and events professionalhe told Insider.
But the last time Goldman had an ocular migraine, it turned into more than just a headache — it became, she later learned, a stroke. “It was very shocking, I couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t understand why me?” Goldman said. “I was so healthy, so young.”
The only answer doctors agreed on was birth control pills. The pills, when they contain estrogen, increase the risk of blood clots, and blood clots can lead to strokes. People who have regular ocular migraines, or migraines with aura, are also at increased risk of stroke — and you should not take hormonal contraceptives, according to tThe American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
But Goldman didn’t know that until it was too late. She shared her story with Insider to alert other young women to the dangers of birth control associated with stroke. “Always be very conscious of what you put in your body, because I never really was until this happened to me,” she said.
When Goldman went to the hospital, it was full of COVID patients
Goldman’s stroke happened in April 2020. She and Jason had taken over her parents’ home in New Jersey to escape the heart of the pandemic in New York, and the couple had settled into healthy routines like morning walks and regular yoga.
But on one particular run, Goldman began experiencing a migraine with aura. An hour after returning to bed for a cold cloth and pain medication, she developed numbness on the left side of her body. He couldn’t move or talk and then he started sweating profusely.
“I felt something take over my body and throw me to the ground. I had no idea what was happening.” Then he started “projectile vomiting bile,” she said.
When Jason, who was out of Excedrin and Gatorade, found her, he took her to the hospital. But she was outnumbered by COVID patients, and Goldman couldn’t express the severity of her symptoms.
“The lights are so bright, I’m in so much pain, I haven’t had any water, I’m just a big mess and nobody’s healing me,” Goldman said. “They just think I’m a girl with a migraine.”
Doctors ran a CT scan of her head and gave her headache medication, but by 1 a.m., Goldman had convinced Jason to take her home. “If I’m going to die,” he thought, “I don’t want to die here.”
Goldman still has no feeling on her left side
The next day, Goldman experienced more numbness on the left side and returned to the hospital, where she had an MRI.
This time, a nurse noticed Goldman’s sweatshirt and told Goldman they were in the same group. “At that moment,” Goldman said, “I knew we had something in common and he was going to take care of me.”
The MRI revealed that Goldman had suffered “multiple small heart attacks” or strokes her brain, explaining Goldman’s loss of sensation, vision problems, and difficulty speaking. She was put on aspirin and taken off birth control, but she didn’t learn about the role of her birth control until later.
Goldman spent three days in the hospital and three months in physical therapy. “It was really stressful because a week before I was running, doing yoga, exercising,” Goldman said. “And now this physical therapist is telling me to squeeze a ball and try to walk across the room.”
But once she shifted her perspective to be grateful the damage wasn’t worse, Goldman improved.
Now, more than two years later, Goldman has earned her yoga teacher certification and is back at work full time. She still has trouble concentrating, gets tired and hot easily, and the left side of her body feels numb. She can move her muscles on that side, but she can’t feel a hot pan or her puppy’s lick.
“There’s a lot of good that came out of what happened to me, but there’s a lot of wear and tear on my brain and body,” he said.
Strokes from blood clots linked to birth control are rare but possible
At a follow-up appointment a week after her hospitalization, Goldman learned that her birth control pills, as well as her history of migraines with aura, were likely the cause of her stroke. But it took months of testing to confirm, he said.
“It was hard for everyone to come to that conclusion,” he said, “because they were so surprised that this could happen to someone who is 26 years old.”
While research on the risk of blood clots associated with the pill is flawed, it can generally be compared to rare but serious events like a car accident, Dr. Melanie Davies, a gynecologist in London and professor at University College London, told Insider. previous history related to blood clotting risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine;
“For 10,000 women over the course of a year, one to five will have a blood clot anyway, and [pill] that increases to three to nine, so it’s still less than a one in 1,000 chance,” he said.
The risk of a blood clot associated with birth control becoming a stroke is about 8 in 100,000; according to UW Medicine. However, this risk is higher among women who have migraines with aura researchers don’t know how much since the studies on the subject are weak.
Although rare, strokes could be rarer if women—and their doctors—were more aware that hormonal birth control could put them at risk, Goldman believes.
“If my gynecologist had ever told me that migraines and birth control don’t go together,” she said, “then I would have gotten rid of anything estrogen-related.”