Written by: Dr. Francesca Medina, ND
In March 2022, 25 year old Hailey Bieber, wife of Justin Bieber, suffered a surprising "mini-stroke," medically known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). She recently shared with her Instagram followers her ordeal, which involved "feeling a weird sensation" that traveled from her shoulder down her arm to her fingertips, which left her fingers numb. Mrs. Bieber also recalled difficulty speaking and right-sided facial drooping.
After medical assessments and scans at the emergency room, doctors found a small blood clot in her brain and formally diagnosed with a TIA. These types of strokes are caused by clots in the brain that dislodge or dissolve on their own and, fortunately, do not cause permanent damage and the effects last a few minutes.
So, the question is: How did a seemingly healthy young woman have such a health scare?
Her doctors reportedly believe the most important risk factor she had was recently starting birth control pills, or oral contraceptives.
Yes, birth control pills are one of the oldest pharmaceutical medications and they are commonly prescribed to women for conditions ranging from acne to PCOS, and everything in between. However, the hormonal birth control pill poses risks of which many women are not aware.
Birth control pills are usually a combination of estrogen and progesterone and they serve to prevent pregnancy by: stopping ovulation (release of egg), thinning the uterine lining to prevent implantation, and thickening the cervical mucus to keep sperm out.
Common side effects of taking the pill are nausea, acne, bloating, mood irregularities (including depression), tender breasts, irregular bleeding, and nutrient/vitamin deficiencies.
Other complications with the pill that are not common, but still worth talking about involve the cardiovascular system. Such cardiovascular events include stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and blood clots. The levels of progesterone and estrogen are said to be low that these events are classified as rare. However, as seen in the case of 25 year old Hailey Bieber, these events can still occur in the seemingly healthiest women.
It is important that all women are fully aware of the possible complications with any medication, especially birth control. It seems as though the birth control pill is handed out like candy without fully informing patients the risks involved and alternative birth control methods.
Often, the pill is given to a woman for reasons other than pregnancy prevention that will mask symptoms without fully addressing the underlying problems. Many women are given the pill for heavy bleeding, irregular cycles, acne, ovarian cysts, pelvic cramping, among many other reasons. To place a band-aid like the pill to "treat" these conditions will only complicate things further if the woman decides to stop taking the pill. It is important to address the underlying causes, such as hormones and nutrient deficiencies, to set the patient up for success in the future, especially if there is a want to conceiving a healthy baby in the future.
It is also important for a patient to know about non-hormonal pregnancy prevention methods. Here is a list of such methods:
Withdrawal/ pull-out method
Male or female condoms
Diaphragm, usually with the addition to spermicide
Fertility awareness method (FAM):
This can include temperature and symptom tracking throughout your cycle to predict fertile days around ovulation to avoid becoming pregnant. I am an advocate of this method because it allows a woman to truly understand her body throughout her cycle. One device I recommend to my patients is called the TempDrop, which is FDA registered and can be purchased using FSA or HSA funds. The TempDrop is a sensor to be worn during sleep that continuously monitors basal temperature. This is a convenient way to take your basal body temperature without having to wake up at the same time each morning to take it.
These methods and others are worth a conversation with your doctor. Every woman has the right to know how medications can potentially affect them and the alternatives they are candidates for.
Remember, I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor. If you have any questions regarding what was mentioned in this blog post, I encourage you to open up that conversation with your doctor.
If you would like to work with me, you can make an appointment with me at The Adapt Lab by calling 858.209.2400 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be honored to work with you!