Rare but Real Risk at the Hair Salon: Beauty Parlor Stroke Syndrome

Woman getting hair washed at salon

The hidden cost of beauty, could be your health. A routine visit to the hair salon for a relaxing day or a new look can – with one wrong move – change your life forever. It’s called “Beauty Parlor Stroke Syndrome,” and we’re here to break it down for you.

What is it?
Beauty parlor stroke syndrome can occur by having your head bent backward, or hyperextended, improperly or for a long period of time during a shampoo at the hair salon. Dr. Robert Coni, medical director of the stroke program at HCA Healthcare’s Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C., explains that, because of this, the blood vessels in the back of your neck could become compressed or damaged (a tear) and result in a stroke.

“Sometimes the blood vessels in the spinal canal are extra-long and can get ‘kinked’ by the pressure placed there,” he said. “This can create a bulge in the interior wall of the artery that effectively blocks blood flow or cause a compressive injury to the artery.”

Either of which can lead to neurological symptoms, including dizziness, weakness on one side of the body, blurry or double vision, loss of vision and clumsiness; also known as, the most common symptoms of beauty parlor stroke syndrome.

What gives?
Beauty parlors aren’t new – so how is this “breaking news?” Well, you may not have heard of the syndrome before because it’s a relatively rare condition, according to Dr. Coni. It’s just become increasingly recognized with better technology.

“The first description of this may have been in the 1970s,” he said, “and there were several cases in the early 90s, too. But, early on, the only way we could look at the arteries in the back of the neck was through angiography – an invasive procedure that required threading a catheter to the brain – and was not routinely performed due to the morbidity associated with it.”

Now, we’re better able to identify the syndrome through MRI scans and CT or MR angiography – all noninvasive, advanced imaging exams used to view your blood vessels.

Who’s at risk?
Women, in case you’re wondering, are not the only sufferers, and the hair salon is not the only place to fall victim.  “People who are older are more at risk because of the likelihood of arthritis in the neck which can cause a greater degree of compression in the blood vessel, especially with the positioning of the head during a shampoo,” Dr. Coni said. “But it can occur in young people, too – in car accidents where there’s a whiplash injury or after something like chiropractic manipulation.”

Although beauty parlor stroke syndrome is real (and so is the risk), there hasn’t been enough clinical research to study patients who’ve had this syndrome due to an event at the beauty parlor, he added. We do know there are ways to prevent this syndrome at the hair salon and treatment options if it happens to you.

Pray, do tell
The best way to prevent beauty parlor stroke syndrome is to avoid hyperextension of the neck all together or for a long period of time, and make sure you have effective neck support during a hair wash at the salon. (Even a towel on the cradle of the wash basin might do the trick!)

“Really, the best advice is to request a shampoo with your head bent forward rather than backward,” Dr. Coni insisted. “If that’s not possible, the most important thing you can do is speak up if you’re uncomfortable.”

Beauty parlor stroke syndrome is not known for being fatal, but any stroke at the base of the brain can have devastating and lasting effects. That’s why if you or a loved one experiences any type of stroke symptoms, get to the ER as quickly as possible.

The brain loses close to 1.8 million cells every minute a stroke goes untreated, Dr. Coni said. So, the single most effective way to treat stroke – beauty parlor included – is speed.

“Knowing is Half the Battle”
Now that you’re “in the know,” don’t let that scare you away from the beauty salon. The reward – an hour or two of pampering, just for you – outweighs the risk of beauty parlor stroke syndrome.

The key is to protect yourself at the shampoo bowl, speak up if you’re uncomfortable, and educate others about this rare, but very real, condition.

HCA Healthcare’s Grand Strand Medical Center uses the acronym BEFAST as an easy way to remember symptoms of stroke. Seek medical treatment immediately for any signs or symptoms of stroke. Grand Strand Health is comprised of one 301-bed acute care hospital, Grand Strand Medical Center with the only certified Advanced Primary Stroke Center in Horry County, and South Strand Medical Center, which provides 24/7 emergency services and outpatient medical services. 

Infographic about responding to stroke

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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