Oral contraceptive pills: Just how safe are they?

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Oral contraceptives. Image from http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/birth-control-pills-and-antibiotics

The birth control pill also called the pill contains hormones that change the way the body works and prevents pregnancy. Some women use it on a daily while others just take them during emergency situations. But how safe are they?

When Kate, a 28 year old development professional was busy enjoying her honeymoon in Hawaii, she noticed a sharp pain in her leg; it almost felt like a muscle cramp so she didn’t pay much attention to it. At night, the pain was so intense, she had to go see a doctor who then ordered a scan. When the test didn’t show any cause of alarm, they forgot about it until when she passed out seven months later at an airport. Upon seeing the doctor, he ruled it out as dehydration. All this time, a massive blood clot also known as deep vein thrombosis had formed in her leg and had now broken off into smaller clots that were travelling to her lungs thus causing her symptoms.

These blood clots that had reached the lungs would mean death for Kate, if her mother who is a nurse hadn’t suggested a specialized lung test where they found multiple clots in the lungs. Her mother’s instinct had saved her. But how many more would get such a stroke of luck?

Oral contraceptives. Image from http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/birth-control-pills-and-antibiotics
Oral contraceptives. Image from http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/birth-control-pills-and-antibiotics

Here’s what you need to know:

Most women are still not warned about the risk of blood clots with the intake of their daily pill. The thrombosis can cause stroke, blindness, brain damage and death. Many who are using the pill are at a triple risk rate of getting blood clots; with the risk being higher with the most recent pills compared to the older versions.

The newer pill versions of progestin (the synthetic hormone found in most hormones) found in the pills called Yasmin and Yaz and desogestrel found in Desogen or Mircette have a higher blood clot risk. The most common progestin is levonorgestrel found in what we usually call ‘P2’ have a significantly lower risk.

So what do you do?

1. Pay attention to your body

Take note of any warning signs that your boy might be giving you. Kate was lucky to pay attention to her symptoms and have a mother who works as a nurse to take further precaution with her health and that saved her life. Symptoms that may indicate a clot include shortness of breath, chest pains (particularly with deep breathing), coughing up blood and swelling or warmth in your lower legs (usually one-sided). Seek immediate medical attention when you notice these signs.

2. Take care of your health:

People who suffer from chronic medical conditions e.g. cancer, arthritis and heart or lung disease are majorly likely to affect the risk of getting clots. If you do suffer from any of those illnesses, it’s safer when you have regular checkups to rule out any formation of clots.

3. Obesity

The issue of weight is also a risk factor in getting clots. Being overweight or obese increases the pressure in the veins in your legs and pelvis, thus increasing the chances of getting clots. Get your BMI (body mass index) checked and get to know where you stand.

4. As you fly

Some people undergo long distance air travel and most of this time is spent while immobile. This may bring about a travel-related clot though the chances are minimal. Get in the habit of fidgeting when you’re sitting. Wiggle your toes and stretch your legs to keep the flow of blood moving.

While you don’t need to be overwhelmingly alarmed and immediately go and throw out your pills, you should definitely be aware of the risks that consumption of the pill brings. And if you do have any concerns about the pill and how to take them, go see a doctor. Prevention is definitely way better than cure.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a perfect example of side of effects of these pills, i have suffered twice from
    pulmonary embolism due to the pills, the first one was even life threatening
    nobody knew i would survive because the clot in the lungs was quite big.

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