Fit and healthy Australian doctor who suffered a stroke at age 24 while lying on couch shares warning signs

dr. Lisa Gadd “lived” like a “normal” 24-year-old when she found herself having to relearn to walk and talk suffer a devastating stroke.

The “fit and healthy” osteopath, from Melbourne, woke up one morning with an excruciating headache, light sensitivity and tingling down her spine.

She ended up in the emergency room where she developed meningitis.

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But three days later, she woke up in the ICU — after suffering a massive stroke caused by what doctors said was a blood clot and brain hemorrhage linked to the oral contraceptive pill.

dr. Lisa Gadd was ‘living’ like a ‘normal’ 24-year-old when she suffered a devastating stroke. Credit: Melissa Martin

Before her stroke, Dr. Gadd led an active lifestyle, playing netball every weekend and going to the gym up to five times a week.

But things took a serious turn when she developed a “cracking” headache one Tuesday morning.

Something wasn’t right

“I actually went straight to the emergency room because I knew something wasn’t right,” Dr. Gadd, now 36, tells WebMD. 7Life

After being in the hospital for three days, she was “sent home with advice to rest,” with doctors attributing her symptoms to viral meningitis.

“On the same day, I was at home on the couch, my head started pounding, I got really annoyed, and then I blacked out,” she says.

Days later, she woke up and found herself in the hospital.

“I had no idea where I was or what had happened,” recalls Dr. Gadd.

“I still had a pounding head. I was still very sensitive to light and was throwing up.”

The ‘fit and healthy’ osteopath woke up one morning with an excruciating headache, light sensitivity and tingling down her spine. Credit: Dr Lisa Gadd

She was stunned to learn that she had suffered a stroke, as the average age of patients in Australia is 75 years.

“I found it hard to understand that it could happen to a young 24-year-old,” she explains.

“I knew what a stroke was, I had learned about it during my university studies.

“But in my head I thought at the time that it only happened to old people.”

Learn to walk and talk

dr. Gadd says the “only contributing factor” doctors could attribute the stroke to was the oral contraceptive pill, commonly known as “the pill.”

She recovered remarkably after a ‘good’ six months.

“I spent three months in the hospital and then another three months in and out of the hospital,” she says.

“My biggest challenges were learning to walk and talk properly. Some days were good, but there were plenty of down moments.

“Challenges like not being able to drive were a huge blow to what was once my independence.”

She recovered remarkably. Credit: Dr Lisa Gadd

Warning signs

dr. Gadd now wants to share the warning signs of a stroke that young people should watch out for.

“Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body,” she says.

“Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or difficulty understanding speech, sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination.”

To those who suffer a stroke at a young age, Dr. Gadd says, “Always stay positive — anything is possible.”

A stroke can happen to anyone

Dr Chris Moy of the Australian Medical Association says the pill may increase the risk of stroke.

“Stroke can happen to anyone,” Dr. moy 7Life

“It’s very rare in young people, but it’s an absolute tragedy when a young person has a stroke.

“The risk factor increases much higher with oral contraceptive pills, especially for people with high blood pressure, smokers, migraines with aura and clotting disorders.

“Oral contraceptive pills contain estrogen and/or progesterone, which increases the risk of clotting and therefore [obstructs] the blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain, which is what actually happens when you have a stroke.

“Although pills have gotten better over time, there is still a slightly increased risk of stroke.”

dr. Gadd wants to share the warning signs of a stroke. Credit: Melissa Martin

dr. Moy says it’s important for women to consult a medical professional about birth control.

“As a primary care physician, I take it very seriously when it comes to prescribing oral contraceptive pills,” he says.

“The bottom line is that if you have a condition, you need to talk to your doctor about it because we don’t know patients’ medical histories.”

Common signs of a stroke include sudden weakness on one side of the body, loss of vision, not being able to speak, and a drooping face.

Stroke Foundation Australia recommends the FAST test as an easy way to remember the most common signs of a stroke.

Using the FAST test involves asking these simple questions:

  • Sight Check their face. Has their mouth dropped?
  • weapons Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time Is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 immediately.

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