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How a 'perfect storm' of risk factors led to Hailey Bieber's medical scare

A stroke expert with Novant Health explains the difference between a stroke and "ministroke" and discusses what people should know about the model's risk factors.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Model Hailey Baldwin Bieber took to YouTube to address her health scare in March, calling her ministroke a result of a "perfect storm" of medical factors.

"[My husband and I] were in the middle of talking, and all of a sudden, I felt this really weird sensation," Bieber describes in an April 27 video.

The 25-year-old model explained how her fingertips went numb and she lost her ability to speak.

"The right side of my face started drooping," she said.

Dr. Ryan Fillmore, neuro-intensivist and medical director of the stroke program at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, said Bieber's symptoms were classic signs of a stroke, which is a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

In her case, however, the quicker passing of symptoms made Bieber's a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which many people call a ministroke.

Fillmore said a TIA is generally more short-lived than a full-blown stroke.

"When symptoms last more than 24 hours, at that point, you would be considered to have had a stroke," Fillmore said. "The other key difference is, on findings on brain imaging, in a stroke, you would have permanent brain damage."

In her video, Bieber describes how doctors found several factors that likely led to her condition, including a hole in her heart, a recent COVID-19 infection, long airplane travel during which she did not move much, and birth control.

"I had just recently started birth control pills, which I should have never been on because I am somebody who suffers from migraines," Bieber said, noting that she never discussed that point with a doctor before going on the medication.

Fillmore said, in some cases, migraines can point to a clotting condition, and birth control and immobility on a flight can both increase the risk of clots on their own, particularly those in the legs.

"If you have a hole in your heart, then you have an abnormal connection between the veins and arteries of your body," Fillmore said. "So, if there is a clot in your leg in the veins, that can travel up to the heart and go through that abnormal hole in the heart, and subsequently travel to the brain and cause your strokes and ministrokes."

He recommends anyone experiencing symptoms that are out-of-the-ordinary see their doctor.

"You know your body best," Fillmore said. "So, if you have any concerning symptoms, get evaluated as soon as possible."

A handy acronym for stroke symptoms is "BE-FAST":

  • B: Balance issues
  • E: Eye/sight changes
  • F: Facial droop/weakness
  • A: Arm or leg weakness/numbness
  • S: Speech problems
  • T: Time to call 911

Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram