Serene Branson Stroke Fright Should Freak You Out!

KCBS news anchor Serene Branson likely did not have a full-blown stroke last night, after experiencing a terribly disturbing incident on-air. (If you haven't seen the viral video by now, I have to warn you, it's really freaky and unsettling.)

Her station recently said in a statement:

Serene Branson was examined by paramedics on scene immediately after her broadcast. Her vital signs were normal. She was not hospitalized. As a precautionary measure, a colleague gave her a ride home and she says that she is feeling fine this morning.


So, in other words, no one knows what caused the young woman to struggle to speak in intelligible words for at least 10 seconds. There is speculation she may have suffered a transient ischemic 'mini-stroke' attack (after which many patients are allowed to go home).

Even if it wasn't a stroke, the incident illustrated that most of us don't realize that younger people are at risk for stroke. For instance, did you know that each year in the U.S., about 50,000 people under the age of 50 suffer a stroke? Eerily enough, The New York Times reported on February 11 that more young people and adults in their 30s and 40s are being hospitalized for stroke, even as stroke rates are dropping in older people.

Findings reported at the American Stroke Association conference in Dallas attribute the rise to increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure among teenagers and young adults. Or they say maybe physicians have just become more accurate in their diagnosis and reporting of stroke in younger people. What I think: It's likely a combination of factors.

I also couldn't help but remember an upsetting story I heard a while back about a 27-year-old young Broadway actress who had been taking Yasmin birth control pills, and in May 2007, she suffered a terrifying stroke. She ended up suing Bayer (the drug company that makes Yasmin and Yaz). Along the same lines, a study came out in 2009 citing incidents where other young women in their late 20s and early 30s had suffered strokes. The meta-analysis found that oral contraceptives (yep, even low-dose ones) nearly double the risk of stroke.

I'm not saying all young women who suffer from strokes are on birth control pills, or even if their use is contributing to the rise in stroke incidents in young people. We don't know that for a fact. But I suspect it's a piece of the puzzle.

The bottom line: Hopefully Branson is on her way to recovery and will be seeing a neurologist soon, because no matter what afflicted her last night, the incident was both unexpected and unnerving. But I hope that it did open our eyes to the fact that younger adults can and do suffer strokes. And it wouldn't hurt for us to identify the factors we can control to reduce our risk.


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