Younger women also at risk for stroke

Younger women also at risk for stroke

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ATLANTA, Ga. -

Tonya Holland was 45 – healthy – and rarely ever went to the doctor. But June 27th, 2013, everything changed.

A pharmacist, Holland was leaving work at a Newnan grocery store, after a pulling her usual 12-hour shift. The symptoms came on quickly. Holland says, "All of a sudden it fell like somebody (wrapped) up a firehouse on your neck, and turned it on, with all that pressure and nowhere to go."

Her head filled with intense pressure – it was the strangest, most powerful headache she'd every experienced.

Co-workers were asking if she was okay.

Holland just wanted to go home, to take a nap, but her feet wouldn't cooperate.

When she called her husband Ken at home, he insisted she call 911.

She says she knew she was having a stroke, but she just couldn't believe it.

She was too young. And didn't have a single risk factor, "I don't even have a primary doctor. I don't get sick. I'm a pharmacist. I take care of other people, I don't ever get sick. So, I was thinking in my head, it couldn't really be a stroke, not me!"

But it was her. Paramedics rushed Holland to Atlanta Medical Center, where stroke specialist Dr. Mikayel Grigoryan discovered a bleed in her brain. Most strokes are caused by blockages, usually because of a blood clot. This was a hemorrhagic stroke, meaning a blood vessel had burst, and it's especially dangerous. Holland underwent an emergency procedure to stop the bleed, and was placed in a medical coma for several days.

But Dr. Grigoryan says a lot of women – especially younger women - don't realize they, too, are at risk for stroke.

He says about 15% of strokes occur in younger people.

The American Heart Association recently pinpointed several stroke risk-factors unique to women.

Dr. Grigoryan says they include, "Pregnancy, the use of contraception, and migraine, especially with aura."

High blood pressure - especially during pregnancy - can also raise a woman's risk of stroke.

So can smoking, and taking oral contraceptives, and the two together may be especially dangerous. But sometimes, strokes just happen. Holland says, "I never smoked, I never drank, so it can happen even if you do all the right things, too."

There are treatments to stop a stroke, but they have to be used early-on. So, Dr. Grigoryan says it's important to recognize the symptoms of a stroke and call 9-1-1 immediately.

Among the warning signs of stroke:

• A sudden onset of weakness, on one side of the body.

• A sudden onset of facial drooping, usually on one side

• A sudden numbness, loss of sensation on one

• Sudden difficultly speaking or trouble understanding what people tell you

• A loss of balance

• Sudden vision loss, usually on one side of the other.

• A sudden, severe headache.

Tonya Holland spent more than three weeks at Atlanta Medical Center, and her rehabilitation was difficult. But she believes she's alive – and almost fully-recovered - because she got help quickly. She says, "I'm really, really lucky. They got me to the hospital. they knew where to take me. And everything fell into place. I'm really lucky."

The next time you visit your doctor, ask about your stroke risk and what you can do to lower it. If you experience migraine with aura or take birth control pills, experts say smoking can be especially dangerous. They recommend quitting immediately.

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