Competitive swimmer, 21, had a stroke at graduation – and her doctors suspect it was a rare side effect of the pill

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  • Marissa Fattore, 21, had been an athlete all her life and never smoked
  • Her doctors suspected the stroke was due to her estrogen birth control pill
  • READ MORE: Doctors discover 58 drug combinations you must not take together

A competitive swimmer suffered a stroke at her graduation, which doctors say was down to the pill.

Marissa Fattore, 21, was graduating from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 2013, when she felt an intense headache and peculiar fuzzy feeling in her head.

She put it down to nerves, but collapsed when she returned to her seat.

Ms Fattore had been an athlete her whole life and never smoked, but suffered a stroke.

Fattore (far right) with three of her graduating classmates

Marissa Fattore, 21, was graduating from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 2013, when she felt an intense headache and peculiar fuzzy feeling in her head

Marissa Fattore, 21, was graduating from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 2013, when she felt an intense headache and peculiar fuzzy feeling in her head

‘Things went dark for me, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital,’ she told Business Insider. 

Ms Fattore was taken to the hospital, where doctors discovered a blood clot in her brain had triggered an uncommon type of stroke called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST).

It happens when blood clots block the venous sinuses in the brain – which collect pools of blood and help drain the central nervous system, the face, and the scalp. This means the blood cannot drain out.

Ms Fattore was given anti-clotting and anti-seizure medication to make her stable, but she was unresponsive for her first 24 hours in the hospital.

‘My family recalls me squeezing their hands or just smiling when they would ask me simple questions. I eventually woke up with doctors around me, and I didn’t know how I got there or what had happened,’ she said. 

Strokes normally strike adults in their 70s, but have been rising faster among younger adults — those aged 18 to 45 years — for decades than among those in any other age group. In some hospitals, cases have nearly doubled in just a few years.

Data from the American Heart Association suggests strokes rose by 43 percent among youngsters aged 18 to 44 years in the US between 2004 and 2018. 

Doctors suspected that the estrogen birth control pill Ms Fattore had been taking might have lead to the stroke, because they couldn’t find any risk factors or genetic predispositions. 

Blood clots are an uncommon side effect of estrogen birth control. Less than 10 in 10,000 people a year suffer a blood clot due to being on birth control, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

By contrast, one to five per 10,000 people develop blood clots each year who are not taking hormonal birth control.

Ms Fattore was moved to a physical rehabilitation center after being in hospital for roughly a week, where she learnt how to walk and talk again.

She said: ‘While it was physically taxing on my body, I think the mental side of it was tougher for me. I just didn’t understand how this could happen to me, and I was terrified. I had this big fear that I wasn’t gonna return to the way I was before and that I would have lifelong deficits.’

She left the rehab center a month after she got there, and stopped taking her anti-clotting medication a year after that. Ms Fattore still has to take seizure medication for life.

Doctors say more unhealthy lifestyles and rising obesity rates may be behind the shift to more strokes in younger people — with obesity raising the risk of weak arteries that can cause blood clots.

But other factors such as overconsumption of alcohol and higher rates of smoking, vaping and even using weed among young adults may also be to blame.

The most common form of stroke — called ischemic stroke, which accounts for about 60 percent of cases among young people — is caused by a blockage or clot that obstructs blood flow in the brain, leading to cells being deprived of vital oxygen and nutrients and starting to die.

The other main type of stroke — called hemorrhagic strokes — is when a blood vessel bursts in the brain and starts to leak its contents into the organ.

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