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Doctors dismissed 3 symptoms of stroke in young people as drugs, migraine

Doctors dismissed 3 symptoms of stroke in young people as drugs, migraine

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  • About 10% of strokes occur in people under the age of 50, so young people are prone to misdiagnosis.
  • Insider shared the stories of two young stroke victims who doctors assumed had migraines.
  • Another young woman who survived a stroke said doctors were convinced she had taken drugs or was hungover.

When Hailey Bieber suffered a stroke in March at the age of 25, it forced fans and followers to face an underappreciated fact: strokes can and do happen to young people.

In fact, about 10% of stroke victims are under the age of 50. Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jonespresident of the American Heart Association, previously told Insider.

However, doctors (and patients) may overlook the signs and attribute them to more common culprits such as stress, drug or alcohol useor migraine. As a result, some patients may never fully recover. “Minutes matter in terms of preserving brain tissue and brain function,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Insider told the stories of three young people whose symptoms were not taken seriously due at least in part, they say, to their age. Here’s how they paid the price and what they’d like to see happen instead.

A 20-year-old was sent home from the emergency room with a diagnosis of migraine despite being unable to walk

Xavier Ortiz was playing basketball when several of his friends, who are nurses, noticed his bulging eye. They urged him to go to the emergency room, where he complained of classic signs of a stroke such as a severe headache, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, dizziness and numbness on one side of his body, his friend Natasha Sanchez, said Insider.

But the clinician told them it was a migraine, gave Ortiz an IV and pain medication and sent him on his way, Sanchez said. She and Ortiz’s mother, who had joined them by this point, had to carry him out to the car.

The next day, Ortiz started convulsing in bed. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where clinicians suspected he had taken drugs. It wasn’t until the next day that a second neurologist examined Ortiz’s brain scansthat the family learned he had suffered a major stroke and only had a 3% chance of survival.

Ortiz, who lives in New Jersey and graduated from a technical college shortly before the stroke, is a survivor, although a year after the stroke he can’t talk, walk or take care of himself, said his stepmother, Jackie Ortiz.

She wonders what might have happened if her husband had taken Xavier Ortiz to the emergency room that first night. It is in his nature to defy authority figures such as doctors and, research shows doctors are less likely to set a man on fire than a young person or woman.

“Maybe things would have been different for us,” Jackie Ortiz said.

Brittany Schier

Brittany Scheier made sure to eat well and exercise often after her stroke.

American Heart Association Go Red for Women



Doctors were sure the drugs caused the 27-year-old woman’s symptoms

Doctors encouraged Brittany Scheier to confess. “They kept asking me, ‘Did you do drugs?’ Everything is fine [if you did],” the Texas-based attorney said Insider.

But Scheier, who was 27 at the time, had nothing to disclose other than that she had celebrated her birthday at wineries the day before. Then in the middle of the night she woke up with severe nausea and ran to the bathroom to throw up.

“All of a sudden I realized I couldn’t move the right side of my body. I tried to stand up, I couldn’t. I tried to reach for things, I couldn’t,” said Scheier. Her vision narrowed to a pinprick, and she screamed for her roommates, who carried her limp body to a car and rushed her to the emergency room.

Clinicians ordered a CT scan five hours after she arrived. Scheier had suffered a stroke. “It was just shocking,” she said, “I thought strokes were something that only happened to people my grandparents’ age.”

Scheier recovered with months of treatment and various outpatient therapies. She had to learn to drive again and could not be left alone as her depth perception and coordination made walking difficult.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, cardiologist in New York, told Insider that Scheier’s experience shows how critical this is for women—who are you are more likely to get hit and die than men – to stand up for themselves.

“So many times I hear, ‘I listened to the doctor. Maybe they’re right,” she said. But “nobody lives in our bodies. We know when we’re not well.”

Jenna Goldman during and after stroke

Jenna Goldman recovers from her stroke in the hospital (left) and two years later.

Jenna Goldman



A 26-year-old woman felt overlooked in the emergency room because of her age

Jenna Goldman learned how to deal with her occasional but debilitating eye migraines: “Take me home, put a towel over my head, sit in a dark room for a few hours and just relax,” Goldman, then 26, said Insider.

But one day in 2020, these tools didn’t work. Goldman, a marketing and events specialist in New York, he developed numbness on the left side of his body, was unable to move or speak, and began sweating — and vomiting — profusely.

“It felt like something just took over my body and threw me to the ground. I had no idea what was happening,” she said.

But at the hospital, which was overwhelmed with COVID patients, Goldman was not a priority. “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 treating me,” she said. “They just think I’m a migraine girl.”

The next day, Goldman had an MRI, which revealed she had suffered multiple strokes in her brain.

Goldman spent three months in physical therapy, and more than two years later, she still had trouble concentrating, tired and overheated easily, and lacked feeling on her left side.

Ultimately, doctors linked her stroke to her birth control pills, which increase the risk of stroke — especially among people with ocular migraines.

“If my gynecologist had ever told me that migraines and birth control don’t go together,” she said, “then I would have given up all things estrogen.”


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