This picture freaks me out. I have 2 of those clips in my brain, keeping 2 different aneurysms from rupturing again. You get a clip in your brain if you're lucky, but more often than not a ruptured brain aneurysm will kill you before a neurosurgeon has the chance to clip it. The fatality of these lurking assholes, and the direness of one's situation after a hemorrhage, is why many of us survivors make it our mission to share our stories and warn others. I recognize that while I've been left (most likely permanently) physically handicapped, I was incredibly blessed to get to keep my cognitive capabilities and personality. And, as someone who had been writing her whole life, writing a memoir about my injuries and struggles in order to share my message seemed like the obvious thing to do.
In putting together my Media Kit to send out as a promotional resource, I compiled recent research that had been done on strokes and brain aneurysms, in regards to their occurring in younger people, the direct effects of smoking tobacco on them, and the higher risks for women. I must also note that African Americans are at a higher risk for brain aneurysms, and should be scanned if they have other risk factors like high blood pressure, or especially, a family history of brain aneurysms.
I'm going to post my research here so that anyone can read it, and go to the links to read about the studies themselves:
Brain Aneurysms and Strokes in the News
“Stroke hospitalizations rising among younger US adults”
Over the past almost twelve years since I suffered my two brain aneurysm hemorrhages, I have seen them affect more and more younger people, both in my own circle and around the country. Every parent who has ever stopped me to ask what happened has been shocked to learn the answer. You can visibly see their faces change as they picture their own children.
The study linked above found that more young U.S. adults are being hospitalized for stroke, at least in part because more have risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. In the younger age group included in the study, 42% of men and 36% of women smoked. Obesity was called a weak risk factor for stroke, with hypertension generally being the strongest risk factor – something made worse by obesity and smoking.
When I was sending my book proposal to publishers, one of the statistics I mentioned was the increase in strokes in the young. With the increase in strokes among younger people, I argued, it was more urgent than ever to make parents and young people aware that this risk is there at all stages of life, not just when you get older. My first stroke happened on my twentieth birthday, for crying out loud! After I was released from the hospital, I heard about a fifteen-year-old boy who fell down dead of a brain aneurysm. Fifteen!
It’s true that the above study relates to ischemic strokes, caused by blood clots, whereas mine were subarachnoid hemorrhages due to massive ruptured brain aneurysms. This leads into my next point. I argued to various publishers that with an increase in strokes as well as reckless behavior among the young, they needed to see how quickly the effects of living wildly can change your life, and how truly expensive those habits are. Smoking is one of the five major risk factors for strokes, and I believe a rise in smoking among younger people (at least among my generation) correlates with the rise in rupturing aneurysms in the young.
“The high and rising rates of stroke risk factors among young adults is concerning and likely contributing to the increase in stroke hospitalizations over time," says lead study author, Dr. Mary George. "Our results stress the importance of prevention of stroke risk factors in younger adults," George warns.
“Tobacco, but not pot, boosts early stroke risk”
A study of nearly 50,000 Swedish military conscripts found that smoking pot in young adulthood doesn’t seem to increase the risk of an early stroke, but smoking cigarettes does. They concluded that more than 90% of stroke risk is related to tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, and other modifiable factors.
Researchers found that using pot 50 or more times was not associated with stroke at age 45 or younger. At first, they found pot users to have a two-fold higher risk of stroke due to blood vessel blockage, but that link was weakened once the researchers accounted for tobacco use (as most pot users also smoked tobacco). The risk of ischemic stroke following heavy cannabis use that was observed disappeared once they controlled for tobacco use. They found that men who smoked at least 20 cigarettes (one pack) a day were at five times the risk for stroke. Women who smoke (and women in general) are known to be at a higher risk of stroke.
My aneurysms were most likely there from birth, as we have a family history of them, but I argue in my book that I believe they had gotten so big over the years because of my excessive drinking and 2-3 pack/day smoking habit. That’s why they never hemorrhaged all those times I was thrown from my dirt bike and slammed into the ground as a young teenager – they hadn’t gotten as large yet. As I stated, 90% of stroke risk is related to tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption. Think that doesn't relate to brain aneurysms and hemorrhaging? THINK AGAIN!
“Most fatal type of stroke declining along with smoking rates”
Bring in the Finns! The type of strokes I suffered (subarachnoid hemorrhages caused by ruptured brain aneurysms) are the most lethal, and are considered rare in the grand scheme of strokes, affecting around 200,000 people a year in America (about 10% of all strokes), although they do seem to occur frequently in the U.S. About 50% of all cases will die within a year. You can imagine why my mother was terrified when my second aneurysm hemorrhaged.
Finland has recently conducted studies regarding smoking tobacco and its relation to subarachnoid hemorrhages. Their study reports seeing fewer subarachnoid hemorrhages since the 1990's, along with lower smoking rates, as well as an increase in the age of the victims. As the youth of their country took up smoking less and less, they saw fewer aneurysms hemorrhaging among the young. The study’s lead author says that while they can’t be certain as to why this decrease is happening, smoking is the Number 1 Risk Factor for subarachnoid hemorrhages. When smoking rates decline rapidly together with plummeting incidences of subarachnoid hemorrhages, it’s easy to draw a correlation.
Study author Anna-Karin Danielsson is quoted as telling Reuters Health that "extensive tobacco smokers in late adolescence had a fivefold increased risk of stroke before age 45, when compared to non-smokers, and more than double the risk of stroke (up through) age 60." Considering I did my heaviest smoking from age 17 until my twentieth birthday, that fits my argument.
A big part of why I hurried to get this book published, after sitting on it for so long, was because I could see the rise in not only strokes, but brain aneurysms specifically. I want to say with as loud of a voice and as big of a platform as possible that the risk of stroke, and indeed, the risk of dying, is even there in your younger years, especially if you brush off your health as I did. When you smoke and drink excessively, you raise your blood pressure – a risk factor. When you don't exercise and you're overweight - another risk factor. All the aforementioned risk factors can lead to hypertension, which is itself a big risk factor for strokes, not to mention one’s overall health.
I wish so badly that I'd listened to the people who told me over and over how precious my youth was. Now I want to show any young people partaking in those risks just how costly it is, even when you are lucky enough to survive. I may have beaten the odds more than once, but I've been left with half a working body, and many dreams dashed. The most important dreams are still possible, but my point is - IT AIN'T WORTH IT!!
“Smoking raises brain lining hemorrhage risk more for women”
Women are in the higher risk pool for subarachnoid hemorrhage in Finland (as in America), with around 60% of cases of subarachnoid hemorrhages happening in women.
Another study in Finland focused on the greater risk of subarachnoid hemorrhages in women, especially women who smoke. Smokers are already at a higher risk of suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Based on previous studies, they know that smoking seems to account for at least one third of all cases of subarachnoid hemorrhages. Women suffer bleeding in the brain almost twice as often as men, the study authors wrote in the journal Stroke.
According to lead study author Dr. Jani Valdemar Lindbohm, a surprising finding was that the elevated risk in women was explained by a vulnerability to smoking. They believe smoking may decrease estrogen levels and cause early menopause, which further lowers estrogen levels. The decrease in estrogen could “cause vessel walls to degrade and make them rupture prone.”
Subarachnoid hemorrhages become more common in women after the age of 55 (tell that to my brain). In the study, even light smoking boosted the risk of hemorrhage in both men and women, though it decreased after quitting smoking. Smokers were more likely to suffer a hemorrhage, especially women. Compared to non-smokers, women who smoked twenty cigarettes (one pack) or more per day were eight times more likely to suffer a brain hemorrhage. Men who smoked were almost three times more likely. The authors speculate that the stronger effects of smoking on women has to do with its interaction with female hormones. The good news is that former smokers had a lower risk of hemorrhage than current smokers, so it’s never too late to quit
"To prevent stroke in general, the story is to stop smoking, get regular exercise, watch your diet and make sure that your vascular risk factors are evaluated and well-controlled," says Dr. James Burke, a neurology researcher.
I read that Surgeon General’s warning on the side of the pack about smoking raising the risk of stroke many times. It’s hard for it to fully resonate when your young mind barely knows what a stroke is, and has never even heard of a brain aneurysm. I truly thought all the repercussions for what I was doing to my body would hit me when I was older, not on my twentieth birthday.
We have many campaigns showing people who died from smoking, or have to speak through holes in their throats. They’re effective, but kids see that and still think “I’ll never get there. I’ll quit before that happens, before I get old.” They need to see someone who looks not much older than they are, who has been living with the effects of smoking since she was twenty, before she got the chance to quit on her own.
I wrote my book, not just to share a heartbreaking tale of personal triumph to which all could relate and draw support from, but in the hopes that my book would give me the proper platform to address the youth of America, who cannot yet fully comprehend the possible ramifications of things they think they’re just experimenting with. If they have a family history of brain aneurysms, like me they may not even know it yet. I hope to start that discussion within many families, in the hopes that those at risk will get themselves screened, and stay away from further risk factors. And I hope to show young people what they don’t think is possible – that the impossible can always hit you at any time in your life, and your health is not something to be taken for granted, at any age.