Holy Hormones Journal: Did you know that if you take a plane while on a combined oral contraceptive pill your incidence of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) increases? Interesting information coming out of the UK.
The combined contraceptive pill and DVT: What are the risks and how can they be reduced
By Davina Fenton
April 28, 2016
Amid concern about a lack of awareness of the small link between use of the combined pill and deep vein thrombosis, here is a look at some key facts and potential risks.
- What is the combined pill?
This oral contraceptive commonly referred to “the pill”, contains artificial versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally in their ovaries.
What are the main advantages of using the pill?
- Aside from its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy, using the pill can reduce the risk of cancer of the ovaries, womb and colon, as well as symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome and even acne, according to NHS choices.
- It can also protect against pelvic inflammatory disease and reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease.
And the disadvantages?
- It can cause temporary side effects, such as headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood swings.
- It can also increase your blood pressure and has been linked to an increased risk of some serious health conditions, such as breast cancer and thrombosis (blood clots).
The risk of blood clots and the pill
There is a well established link of a “rare but important risk” of developing a blood clot (thrombosis) from using the combined contraceptive pill.
The female hormone oestrogen it contains can cause clotting of the blood more readily, leading to blood clots in the veins or venous thromboembolism (VTE), such as:
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): a clot in in one of the deep veins in the body, usually in one of the legs
- Pulmonary embolism. This is when in the case of DVT, a piece of blood clot breaks off into the bloodstream and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs. In severe cases, this can be fatal.
- A blood clot could also form in the vessels of the heart (causing a heart attack) or the brain (causing a stroke).
In 2015, Fallan Kurek, 21, died from a “massive” pulmonary embolism linked to the side-effects of the contraceptive pill were not effectively treated.
Reducing the risk of a developing a blood clot
Doctors are given clear guidelines for prescribing the pill and before doing so should check if you have certain risk factors that make you more vulnerable to this complication.
- being 35 years old or over
- being a smoker or having quit smoking in the past year
- being very overweight
- high blood pressure
- having had a blood clot or stroke in the past
- a family history of a blood clot
- being immobile for a long time
How to tell if you might have a DVT or pulmonary embolism
Symptoms can include:
- cramping pain, redness, warmth, or swelling in one of your legs – these are symptoms of DVT
- breathlessness, chest pain, fainting or coughing up blood – these are symptoms of a pulmonary embolism