Hailey Baldwin Bieber is recovering after developing a blood clot that moved to her brain, a health problem that is happening in “younger and younger people” says a vascular neurologist.
Bieber, 25, shared on Saturday that she was eating breakfast with husband Justin Bieber on Thursday morning when she “started having stroke-like symptoms and was taken to the hospital.”
There, doctors found that she had “suffered a very small blood clot” to her brain, which led to a “small lack of oxygen.” Bieber’s body was able to pass the blood clot on its own, she explained, and she “recovered completely within a few hours.”
Blood clots like Bieber’s can form “for different reasons,” both environmental and genetic, Dr. Shazam Hussain, the director of the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic, tells PEOPLE.
“It’s important to know your health and any potential risk factors you might have for strokes, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, difficulty with sugars … When we have younger people having a stroke, we will look for things that would cause their blood to have a tendency to clot — it could be hereditary and run in their families.”
And once in the brain, “the organ that’s most sensitive to lack of blood flow,” the lack of oxygen will cause the brain function to shut down and cause stroke-like symptoms. Those symptoms can be spotted with the acronym BE FAST — B for balance, E for eyes and having vision trouble, F for face drooping, A for arm or limb weakness, S for speech difficulty and T for time, meaning it’s time to call 911.
“A stroke is really a situation where every second counts,” Hussain says. “The brain is very, very sensitive to the lack of blood flow and you lose somewhere around 2 million brain cells a minute. So it’s really important to get that medical attention right away.”
In Bieber’s case, she was able to pass the blood clot on her own, which is often possible with small clots. “If it’s a small clot, it can just dissipate and go away on its own and not leave any lasting issues or problems,” Hussain says.
If that’s not the case, doctors typically administer a clot-busting drug to dissolve the clot if its within the first 4.5 hours after a stroke, or for larger clots they’ll perform a thrombectomy to go in and remove the clot through the blood vessels.
With situations like Bieber’s, the incidents are typically called mini-strokes or a transient ischemic attack (TIA): “That means there was a blood clot, it dissolved up completely and the person is completely a hundred percent back to normal,” Hussain says. If an MRI shows any injury to the brain, however, “then it becomes a full stroke.”
Situations like Bieber’s are something that everyone should watch out for, young and old, Hussain says.
“We think of stroke as being something that happens in older ages, but we are seeing it in younger and younger people,” he says. “It relates, generally, to people having unhealthy lifestyles, maybe not eating as well or not getting in regular exercise, along with other factors like genetics. So it’s important that people don’t just think of it as something that happens to older people. If you’re younger and have those symptoms, you’ve got to get to the hospital.”
Hussain also notes that while COVID-19 illness has been shown to cause blood clots, “fortunately most people don’t run into that issue.” Still, it’s again important to know the symptoms of strokes and get medical attention right away if anything like that happens.
After having a stroke or TIA, people do need to be more cautious, Hussain says, “because their risk is higher than someone else walking down the street.”
“It’s what we call a front-loaded risk. The highest risk period is in the first two days, then the first month, but fortunately once you get through that highest risk first period, your risk starts to come back down towards the general population.”
For anyone concerned about their risk of stroke or blood clots, it’s key to get regular checkups with a physician, make sure you don’t have high blood pressure, stick to a healthy diet, get in exercise and keep cholesterol in control, Hussain says. He also recommends looking at the site strokeawareness.com — and quitting smoking, if anyone still is. “Smoking is the other major risk factor — there’s no good reason to smoke, so you want to quit.”