Hailey Bieber says 'perfect storm' led to mini-stroke

Birth control, migraines, COVID-19 and a long flight likely led to the blood clot, which travelled to Bieber's brain due to a hole in her heart.

Emma Jones 7 minute read April 29, 2022
justin bieber and hailey bieber at the grammy's

In March, Hailey Bieber had posted to her Instagram stories explaining a blood clot to her brain caused “stroke-like symptoms,” prompting the model to rush to the hospital. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Hailey Bieber, 25, is shedding new light on the mini-stroke that sent her to the hospital early March. She says a “perfect storm” that included taking birth control with a history of migraines contributed to the formation of a blood clot.

In March, Bieber had posted to her Instagram stories explaining a blood clot to her brain caused “stroke-like symptoms,” prompting the model to rush to the hospital. In a video released on the influencer’s YouTube account Wednesday, Bieber explained what her doctors believe led to the clot.

“I had just recently started birth control pills which I should have never been on because I am somebody who suffered from migraines,” she said. “I just did not talk to my doctor about this. So ladies, if you suffer from bad migraines and you plan on being on birth control pills make sure you tell your doctor because having a stroke is a potential side-effect.”

Both migraines and birth control slightly increase the risk of developing blot clots and strokes. Combination birth control pills, which contain estrogen and progesterone, are generally safe for women who do not smoke and are generally healthy yet experience migraines without auras, according to Migraine Canada. Those who experience migraines with auras — when the migraine triggers sensory disturbances such as flashing lights and vision abnormalities — have a higher risk of developing a stroke.

Oral contraception has been known to make headaches better or worse, so it is important to speak to your doctor about any migraines you have experienced before starting a new medication.

On top of the medication issue, Bieber said her doctors believe contacting COVID-19 and a long flight led to the formation of a blood clot. A previously undiagnosed heart condition, PFO, allowed the clot to travel to her brain.

A PFO allowed the clot to travel to her brain

Bieber also said that an opening in her heart, a patent foramen ovale (PFO), is why the clot travelled to her brain.

A PFO is a small opening between the upper chambers of the heart, allowing a small amount of blood to flow between the right and left atrium, according to Johns Hopkins University. PFOs are seen after birth, however, two flaps soon develop to create a wall between these chambers. Scientists don’t know what causes the wall to form, however, if it doesn’t the PFO can remain into adulthood.

PFOs raises the risk of stroke because it creates an avenue through which blood clots can escape the heart into the body’s blood vessels, where it can block blood flow to the brain or other critical organs.

Bieber said she had a grade 5 PFO, an opening roughly 12 to 13 millimetres large, and underwent a closure procedure to repair the hole. In this procedure, a small flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery in the groin area and threaded through the artery to the heart. Once there, the catheter deploys a small button-like device onto the hole, sealing it shut.

“The biggest thing I feel is … really relieved that we were able to figure everything out, that we were able to get it closed,” Bieber said. “That I will be able to just move on from this really scary situation and just live my life.”

Blood clots and “mini strokes”

Bieber previously characterized the events as one of the “scariest moments I’ve ever been through,” and assured fans she was home recovering and expressed gratitude to the doctors and nurses who assisted her.

“All of a sudden I felt this really weird sensation that kind of like travelled down my arm from my shoulder all the way down to my fingertips and it made my fingertips feel really numb and weird,” said Bieber. “ … Justin [Bieber — husband] was like are you OK … and when I went to respond I couldn’t speak. The right side of my face started drooping, I couldn’t get a sentence out.”

Dr. Shazam Hussain, director of the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic, told People magazine that these events are often classified as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke.

TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The blockage is usually caused by a blood clot or plaque buildup in the arteries and passes in less than an hour. Although the effects of TIA are temporary, it is usually a sign that the patient is at a much higher risk of having a full stroke, so medical intervention is necessary.

Bieber explained that the facial drooping lasted for, she believed, approximately 30 seconds. She was also able to walk, but when those around her were asking her questions she knew what she wanted to answer but wasn’t able to get the words out.

“They were asking me questions: do you know where you are? Do you know your name? And I knew all of the answers in my head but as soon as I would try to say it I just could not get it out, it was like my tongue and my mouth just could not form the sentences,” said Bieber.

The influencer added her speech had started to come back by the time the ambulance arrived and she was “pretty much back to normal” by the time they reached the emergency room. She was hospitalized overnight.

Healthy diet, exercise, medications and diagnosis of any underlying medical disorders — for example, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, diabetes or high cholesterol — are all things that should be explored to manage the risks of a stroke. Having contracted COVID-19 is also linked to an increased risk of developing blood clots.

“It’s important to know your health and any potential risk factors you might have for strokes, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, difficulty with sugars,” Hussain told People magazine. “ … When we have younger people having a stroke, we will look for things that would cause their blood to have a tendency to clot — it could be hereditary and run in their families.”

Act FAST: Recognizing the signs of a stroke

Strokes are the leading cause of disability in Canada and the third leading cause of death, according to the Ontario Stroke Network. Every year, about 50,000 many people have a stroke in Canada, amounting to roughly one every 10 minutes.

While strokes disproportionately affect those over the age of 65, young adults are not immune. From 2012 to 2013, 960 Canadians between the ages of 20- and 24-years-old (0.04 per cent of all Canadians in this age bracket) and 2,790 Canadians between the ages of 25 to 29 (0.1 per cent of all Canadians in this age bracket) experienced a stroke, according to the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System data.

When stroke-like symptoms develop, it is imperative that the person is checked out by a health-care provider as soon as possible. Waiting to see if the symptoms resolve on their own could result in permanent brain damage or death.

Stroke symptoms can be spotted using the mnemonic FAST, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. (Remember it by the moniker “If you see stroke symptoms, act FAST.”) F stands for face: the muscles on one side may be drooping and the individual may be unable to smile with their entire mouth; A stands for arms: the individual may not be able to raise one or both arms fully; S stands for speech, which may be jumbled or slurred; T stands for time: act quickly — call 911.

If stroke symptoms occur, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends calling 9-1-1 immediately rather than trying to drive yourself to the hospital.

UPDATE: This article is an update on a previous story posted 2022-03-17

Emma Jones is a multimedia editor with Healthing. You can reach her at emjones@postmedia.com or on Twitter @jonesyjourn.

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