Miriam Margolyes: Coming out 'could be linked to mother's stroke'

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A stroke is an injury that follows a sudden obstruction in blood flow to the brain, causing an onslaught of symptoms such as numbness and confusion. The brain’s blood supply can be disrupted for a number of reasons, but rarely have medications been found to be the cause. According to new findings, one pill taken by millions of women could increase the risk of a brain attack.

The new findings, published in the medical journal Stroke, have suggested oral contraceptive use and hormone therapy may increase the risk of having a stroke.

The pill – taken by approximately 3.1 million women in the UK – is one of the most popular contraceptive methods across the globe.

Scientists made the discovery during a population-based cohort study of more than 250,000 women who were assessed from 2006 to 2010.

Within this sample, 81 percent of women reported using oral contraceptives and 37 percent reported using hormone therapy.

A total of 3,007 stroke diagnoses were found, 578 of which were labelled as ischaemic, while 177 were put down to intracerebral haemorrhage.

The findings revealed that the incidence rate of strokes increased in the first year of oral contraceptive use.

Therese Johansson, PhD candidate in the department of immunology, genetics and pathology at the Centre for Women’s Mental Health during the Reproductive Lifespan at Uppsala University, Sweden, discussed the findings with the health platform Healio.

She said: “Women should be aware of the side effects [of oral contraceptive and hormone therapy] in order to make an informed decision when it comes to exogenous hormones.”

Several mechanisms have previously been proposed to explain the link between oral contraception and the increased stroke risk.

In 2018, a report in Science Daily explained oral contraceptives raised blood pressure, thereby making blood hypercoagulable – or more likely to clot.

It has previously been demonstrated that even low doses of oral contraceptives can also increase the risk of cerebral venous thrombosis.

These findings suggest some level of caution is warranted when using oral contraceptives.

Johansson added: “Women should consult with their health care provider or midwife to discuss which type of contraceptive methods are right for them.

“If they have additional risk factors, like smoking, a high BMI or genetic predisposition to thrombosis, they should consider another option than oestrogen-containing oral pills.

“I don’t think that women should stop using oral contraceptives.

“But if they’re new users, they should consider which method is best for them based on their individual risk factors.”

How to prevent stroke

For the majority of people, personal lifestyle will largely determine whether a stroke lies ahead.

“The best way to prevent a stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol,” says the NHS.

These lifestyle measures work by reducing the risk of clogging from fatty substances in the arteries, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The American Health Association also recommends having at least two servings of fatty fish per week, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, to reduce stroke risk.

Other evidence supports the consumption of fruits with white flesh such as apples and pears to reduce the risk of stroke.

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