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Saralyn Wolf’s Blood Clot, A Cautionary Tale for CrossFit Women Over 40

August 5, 2020 by
Courtesy of Saralyn Wolf
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After dealing with four ovarian cysts bursting in just a few months, it was more clear than ever to 45-year-old Saralyn Wolf that her hormones were out of whack.

  • “My doctor recommended the birth control pill,” said Wolf. At the time, she was also taking a Vitamin K supplement to help increase calcium in her bones, as well as DHEA to help decrease cortisol levels, both of which had been recommended by her naturopath.

So, in September, 2019, she started taking the pill. Less than six weeks later, she had a week of “the worst headaches of my life,” said Wolf, a CrossFit athlete since 2009 and the former owner of three affiliates in the Orange County, CA area.

  • “And before that, a week of exhaustion on a level like I had when I was pregnant,” she added.

Wolf went to the hospital, where she had a CT scan and was told she was fine. But the next day, she knew she wasn’t fine when she started experiencing a burning sensation all over her body, and her motor skills were visibly impaired.

  • “I couldn’t even walk,” she said.

An MRI showed she had a large blood clot in her brain, which had caused a stroke.

  • “When they sent me home initially, they gave me the wrong dosage (of medication), so 12 hours later I had another stroke and was back in the hospital and ended up in the ICU,” Wolf said.

The Research Begins: When she was released from the hospital, Wolf became determined to get to the bottom of why she ended up with a blood clot in her brain. She was fit and healthy, and to her knowledge, didn’t have any blood clotting risk factors. So she began researching the topic and soon came up with a theory that it probably had something to do with the pill, combined with DHEA and the other supplements she was taking.

She was right.

  • “I told my neurologist what I was taking, and sure enough, the pill combined with DHEA, has been shown to increase the chances of blood clotting. But it’s not common knowledge. My doctor didn’t know this when I went on the pill,” she said, adding that her neurologist said that Vitamin K likely also played a role.
  • “I know a lot of CrossFit women who take DHEA, because they workout so hard and have too much cortisol in their bodies, so I think this is something they need to know about, especially if they’re in their 40s,” she added.

Women in their 40s on the pill are known to have an increased chance of blood clots, so in this sense Wolf believes she created “the perfect storm for myself,” she said.

Wolf’s Recovery: Since her two strokes less than a year ago, Wolf has made great strides. The moment she was released from the hospital, she committed herself to physical therapy and quickly got back to the gym.

Courtesy of Saralyn Wolf
  • “It never affected me cognitively, but I had to learn how to walk again, and I couldn’t even text for a while. My fingers just wouldn’t move where I needed them to,” she said of the days following her stroke.

Though she still can’t do what she used to be able to do — she finally added weight on the bar during her back squat last week — and still must avoid impact exercises, she is making progress each week, she explained.

Wolf credits her quick progress to 11 years of CrossFit. And although Wolf still isn’t totally out of the woods, as the blood clot is still there and hasn’t totally dissolved yet, she feels like herself again and is in a much better position than she would have been without CrossFit. Her doctors agree.

  • “My doctors have all told me that I really saved myself by putting myself in such a good position beforehand by being in such good shape. That and getting into (physical therapy) so quickly have been really helpful, because getting your neural pathways re-established as quickly as possible is huge in recovery. My fitness level has made all the difference, she said.

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