By GMA Team, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Vivian King was 49 years old when she suffered a massive stroke.
“I was in neurological ICU for 10 days and the hospital for a total of 32 days,” King, a former TV news anchor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told Good Morning America. “That was a huge shock for me.”
King said her stroke seven years ago was caused by a blood clot in her brain that she said was caused by her use of birth control.
“When you look at the list of stroke risks, [you see] high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, but you don’t really get to birth control until the final list,” added King, who has made it her mission to educate women about stroke risks. “Women have said [to me], ‘As soon as that happened to you, I went to go talk to my doctor about it.'”
The blood clot affected the left side of King’s brain, which she said left her unable to speak for nearly four weeks.
King, now recovered, is sharing her story in a new memoir, “When the Words Suddenly Stopped.” In it, she opens up about how she found her voice again and sharing her three-step guide to healing.
“We’re going to call it the three P’s. You need a posse, you need persistence and you need prayer,” she said. “Any time I was feeling down, I had my posse around to give me hope.”
What women need to know about the risk of strokes
One in five women in the U.S. will have a stroke in their lifetime and stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The leading causes of stroke for all people include risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes, according to the CDC.
For women, there are additional unique risk factors to watch out for, as King’s stroke shows.
“Women have unique stroke risk factors and oral contraceptive use is one of them,” said Dr. Carolyn Brockington, director of the Stroke Center at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside in New York City. “It’s very important to know.”
When it comes to birth control, for healthy young women without any stroke risk factors, the stroke risk associated with oral contraceptives is very small, experts say. In addition, most oral contraceptives today contain between 20 mg and 30 mg of estrogen, well below the level of estrogen (50 mg and above) known to significantly increase the risk of stroke.
The use of non-estrogen contraception, such as an intrauterine device (IUD), progestin injections, or progestin implant, is recommended for women with multiple risk factors for stroke.
Other unique stroke risk factors for women, in addition to birth control or hormone replacement therapy, include pregnancy, preeclampsia, migraine and heart arrhythmia, according to Brockington.
The signs and symptoms of a stroke are often the same for women and men and include sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or difficulty speaking and understanding speech; sudden vision loss; sudden loss of balance or dizziness and a sudden, severe headache with no known cause, according to the CDC.
The key to surviving a stroke is to act fast, according to Brockington.
“In acute stroke treatment we say time is brain. The reason why we say that is every moment, every minute that goes by, 1.9 million brain cells die,” she said. “You don’t have time … you have to call 911.”
Brockington shared an acronym used by stroke awareness advocates to help people remember what to do if stroke symptoms appear.
The acronym, F.A.S.T., advises people to look at the face, arms and speech and then call 911.
F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.
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