Well, this is terrifying. Former Playboy model and “Queen of Snapchat,” Katie May died unexpectedly last February from suffering a stroke. Now, new details from her death certificate, obtained by TMZ, show that Katie’s stroke was actually caused by a routine trip to the chiropractor.
According to TMZ, the certificate states that the 34-year-old experienced a blunt force injury while receiving a “neck manipulation by a chiropractor.” That injury resulted in the left vertebral artery in her neck being torn, which cut off blood flow to her brain and caused her stroke.
Yes, this is actually possible. “Studies have shown that high velocity/high force manipulation of the neck can be associated with injuries/tears to the blood vessels in your neck, particularly in people under 45,” says Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., an ER doctor and senior vice president of clinical strategy at Sharecare, a digital health company. “Those vessels are crucial for blood flow to the brain, and damage to them leads to a stroke.”
Katie’s tweets from January suggest that she was seeking chiropractic treatment after pinching a nerve in her neck during a photo shoot. After suffering the stroke, she was put on life support for several days until her death. According to TMZ, her death was ruled accidental and there’s no word yet on whether Katie’s family will pursue legal action.
But how worried should you be that something like this could happen to you? Well, it seems pretty rare. Research published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice discovered that there have only been 26 deaths linked to chiropractic spinal manipulation reported in the history of medical literature—though the research acknowledges that “many more might have remained unpublished.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, serious complications from visiting your chiropractor are rare, but other risks besides stroke include a herniated disk, and compression of the nerves in the lower spine. You should also avoid seeing a chiropractor if you know you’re at an increased risk of stroke, experience numbness in your arm or leg, or have osteoperosis.
The bottom line: Gillespie says it’s important to be aware of the risks when you visit a chiropractor. “I would advise patients to be cautious specifically before receiving manipulation of the neck, especially in any way that’s a high force/high speed manipulation.”