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Blood Clots and Birth Control: What You Need to Know

Updated on September 7, 2012
Source

What's the big deal?

With fear-mongering about blood clots and birth control making the front page recently, I thought now might be a good time to take a look at what exactly birth control users are being warned about. What is a blood clot, how would you know if you have one or are at risk of developing one, and what can be done to mitigate the danger?

Well, let's find out!

The Least Cringe-Inducing Clot Picture

Source

What's a Blood Clot?

Well, the name pretty much says it all: it's a clot o' blood. This is what normally happens when you hurt yourself and is life-saving to the extent that it's this ability that renders most small cuts non-fatal. It would be utterly humiliating if we could bleed out from a paper cut! So there's that.

But the blood clots you're warned about in airplanes and by your doctor are the kind that form in arteries, veins, or organs and block the circulation of blood through your body and cause admittedly scary things like a heart attack, stroke, or deep vein thrombosis (this latter condition is largely genetic). Whoops...

Conditions which increase the likelihood of clotting are pregnancy, lupus, hemophilia, arthritis, heart disease, and of course your run of the mill obesity.

How would you know you have a clot? That depends on the location of the clot. If it's in your limbs/extremities, you'll experience some combination of joint pain, swelling, tenderness, and discoloration. If it's in your abdomen, you can look forward to vomiting, diarrhea, and wow-severe abdominal pain. In your lungs, you'll probably experience heart palpitations, a mild fever, severe chest pain, and may cough up blood. Head and heart clots, the culprits in strokes and heart attacks, could also be accompanied by weakness, hallucinations, and slurred speech.

Safe to say you'll probably know it's coming, which will give you a chance to call 911 and get thee to an ER. I found this rather comforting. Sudden unforeseen death remains the purview of motor vehicles and their incompetent operators. Whew.

And to this we can add some basic preventative measures:

  • Don't sit around all day. "Prolonged sitting" (heh) is a contributing factor, and doctors recommend that you get up and walk around every hour or so. Set a timer if you like. Mine looks like a ladybug.
  • Another excuse to wear comfortable clothing - excessively tight clothing (spanx, anyone?) has also been labeled a contributing factor.
  • If you're already at risk for DVT (mostly determined by genetics), you can wear compression socks and sleep with your legs elevated above your heart. I have to say, the socks look great, and might be a good investment for anyone going an a long flight, or even bus ride.

Birth Control Options and Their Reported Blood Clot Connection

Method of Birth Control
Users Who Got Clots (out of 10,000)
The Pill
6
The Ring
7.8
The Patch
9.7
none
2-5
Data from BBC report of study

Birth Control Users, Calm On Down

So clots can be scary, but guess what? If you get pregnant, your risk rises significantly more and that risk remains for the first postpartum year - remember that a pregnant woman has a whole bunch more blood coursing through her veins than normal (the source, I believe, of the "tell-tale glow"), and that will put some serious strain on her poor circulation system. Anyway, it seems like the vast majority of the world's population has survived this terrible blight, so I'm going to go ahead and not freak out. There are warning signs for most kinds of blood clots, which means there's time to get thyself to an ER.

The numbers are to the right for the major forms of birth control, and here's the BBC report cited in the table.

I hope this will help you sleep soundly at night once more. And poo poo to the fusty BBC fellow who made the study's findings seem horribly shocking.

Ladies!

Does the risk of clotting (or any other listed side effects) make you hesitant to go on birth control?

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    • profile image

      Melissa 4 years ago

      After 5 months on Reclipsen birth control I was diagnosed with bilateral Pulmoniry Embolisms. I never felt the dvy in my legs & almost didn't go in for my shortness of breath because it wasn't bad but luckily I did. Some people never have any symptoms & die instantly. Being educated is the best thing you can do. Walk around, exercise, stay hydrated! & listen to your body! A simple d dimer blood test can be done if you suspect a clot. Sometimes doctors will diagnose you with something else so make sure you voice your opinion about clots if you suspect that's what you have!

    • profile image

      Pink 4 years ago

      I stop using the depo birth control 6 months now an I haven't seen my period.... An I'm very worried... I made an appointment to see my doctor but it will be at the end of the month

    • profile image

      Julia 5 years ago

      Modern IUDs are pretty great: cheaper, easier, and more effective than the pill. They have different health risks, so look into what applies to you. (They've come a long way since the 70s when they got a bad reputation.)

    • Lwelch profile image

      Lena Welch 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks!

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Thanks for sharing, Lena! It's very reassuring to hear that you had some time between the onset of symptoms and things getting really serious. I recommend that anyone reading this later who wants more information should visit your profile - it looks like you've got it covered!

      And yeah, seriously excited for scientific advancement, eh?

      All my best.

    • Lwelch profile image

      Lena Welch 5 years ago from USA

      You got it, it's clots in the lungs. Symptoms are shortness of breath, night sweats, rapid pulse, chest pain, low blood pressure, and anxiety. You may get one or none. The big thing is if shortness of breath hits go to the er. You'd be amazed. I didn't. I just felt weird and couldn't get a full breath. It got worse from there over a number of months with doctors testing thyroid and other things first before I was sent to the er to get a ct scan.

      Clots in veins show up as a crampy pain in the calf, redness, inflammation in one leg or arm, a hot bruised area often on the back of the leg behind the knee. Again - go to the er.

      The progestin only ring would be great. Mini pills are much more fallable than coc pills. If you take them an hour late they are less effective. A ring would fix that and not have problems with expulsion that mirena has. I am excited!

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Lena, Thank so much for your insight. You're quite right about trying birth control that doesn't use estrogen, and I think they're actually working on a new ring with just that goal in mind. Something to look forward to!

      Is pulmonary embolism when the clot is in your lungs? I think the symptoms of that (like coughing up blood) are definitely going to provoke a pretty serious ACTION NOW impulse - it's unlikely anyone would put off a trip to the ER in those conditions.

      But yes, knowing what to look for/pay attention to goes a long way to helping people (certainly myself) disregard fear mongering.

    • Lwelch profile image

      Lena Welch 5 years ago from USA

      Good article. It puts great perspective on the scares about BC. One thing for women to consider is moving to progestin only birth control. Progestins on their own have shown no clotting risk when taken in the doses in birth control.

      You mentioned pregnancy. The big reason for increased clotting risk in pregnancy is that the body is filled with increased levels of hormones. This continues for around 6 months after the baby is born. For those of us with an increased clotting risk, it may be a good idea to go on anticoagulation therapy during and after pregnancy.

      The big thing for people who read this and are scared.... know what the signs of a DVT and Pulmonary Embolism are. This can save your life. A DVT won't kill you, a clot in your lungs may. If you get to the ER when you suspect either, you will likely survive.

      Thanks for the reasonable perspective on this...

      Sincerely,

      A clot victim,

      Lena.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      *Very* scary! Thank you very much for the comment - I'll add a bit more about other contributing factors so concerned parties can talk to their doctor about other options.

      However, I should also add that most of the risk is said to be in the first year you start using the medication - after which drug companies say that you should have a good idea of how your body and the medication interact. I'll take a look around and see if I can find more on that!

      I hope your friend is doing alright now. All my best to you and yours.

    • ASchwartz profile image

      ASchwartz 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Thanks for the informative article. I actually know someone that suffered a stroke brought on by a blood clot while using the nuva ring. It's scary stuff, but there are a lot of factors that increase the odds of forming a blood clot, like age and smoking.