Birth control pills may be putting you at risk for dangerous blood clots

Hormones

By pH health care professionals

While all birth control pills carry some risk, some are much higher risk than others, with one of the primary concerns being your risk of developing a blood clot in the legs or pelvis. The clot may block off blood flow and travel up through the blood stream to your vital organs, like the lungs or heart. This can be fatal -- even for a young, healthy woman. This kind of blood clot in the veins is called a venous thromboembolism (a blood clot is known as a thrombus, and an embolism is anything that obstructs blood flow).

What does the research say about birth control increasing your blood clot risk?

recent Danish study compared various contraceptives and found that women who use higher-risk birth control medications carry a six-fold risk of a dangerous blood clot compared to non-users. And even lower-risk products carried a three-fold risk.

Although birth control pills have numerous beneficial effects, such as preventing unwanted pregnancy, normalizing menstrual patterns, distributing estrogen more evenly throughout the cycle and reducing PMS symptoms, benefits should be weighed against potentially dangerous side effects. Birth control pills have been repeatedly investigated and shown to increase blood clot risk. Higher estrogen doses and certain types of progestogen were found to be at fault.

What are signs for venous thromboembolism?

Venous thromboembolisms have been called one of the most important preventable causes of death worldwide. It starts with being proactive and knowing the signs, in addition to reducing your overall risk.

In a typical scenario, the symptoms may not be obvious at first. Your lower leg starts to swell. The skin does not necessarily look different, and the surrounding area may feel normal or slightly uncomfortable. In serious cases, a clot breaks loose and travels in the blood system, causing pulmonary embolism. Initially, signs may be subtle and include just a little chest tightness, however this can progress to more severe chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and distress.

Which contraceptives are higher risk and which are lower risk?

  •          High risk contraceptives: include those containing desogestrel, gestodene, drospirenone or cyproterone acetate as well as transdermal patches and vaginal ring
  •          Lower risk contraceptives: norethisterone, levonorgestrel and norgestimate

So what are some of the ways you can be proactive and reduce your risk if you take birth control?

  •          Consider alternate methods of birth control or choose lower-risk birth control medications.
  •          Work with your doctor to examine your blood tests to identify any individual risk factors such blood lipids, body composition analysis, inflammatory indicators, clotting factor abnormalities and more.
  •          It is generally recommended that women over 35 with additional risk factors use only lower-risk contraceptives or none at all. Birth control use during pregnancy can increase risk your risk for blood clots by three to four times. The postpartum period risk can be as high as 10-12 fold, depending on individual medications and data from different research institutes.

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The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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