In July 2019, 20-year-old Ally Givens got out of bed to use the bathroom, collapsed, and died. She was just two days shy of her 21st birthday. Her boyfriend said she fell to the floor and he quickly called 911, but Givens was unable to be revived, and died from a pulmonary embolism caused by blood clots that formed when she began using the NuvaRing for birth control. Sadly, Givens isn’t alone. Many women have suffered the consequences of hormonal birth control — including death — after believing it was safe.
1. Pulmonary Embolism
Though pulmonary embolism is rare, it is deadly for one-third of the people who are not immediately diagnosed with blood clots that can move from the other parts of the body to the lungs. Combination birth control pills including Yasmin and Yaz carry a risk of pulmonary embolism, especially for women who have pre-existing factors, which they may not even realize. Even when women are told of the risk of blood clots, they may not know their complete family history or what the signs of blood clots are until it is too late. Before taking birth control, it is vital that a woman knows any family history of blood clots and it is important that she understands the symptoms so that she can get help if and when she needs it.
2. Heart Attack or Stroke
Just as with pulmonary embolism, heart attacks and strokes can occur when blood clots form. A review of different studies found that compared to women who don’t use oral contraceptive pills, there is a 1.6-fold increased risk of a blood clot in an artery that obstructs blood flow to major organs — including the heart and brain — in women who do use contraceptive pills. The risk is twice as high for women taking pills with higher doses of estrogen.
3. Breast Cancer
The risk of developing breast cancer is greater for women who use hormonal birth control compared to women who have never used it. Higher estrogen levels are linked to birth control, and The New York Times stated that for every 100,000 women, hormonal contraception use causes an additional 13 cases of breast cancer each year. According to Cancer.gov, women who are currently using oral contraception have a 24 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer. That risk declines when oral contraception use is suspended.
4. Cervical Cancer
According to Cancer.gov, women who have used oral contraception for five or more years are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than women who have never used oral contraception. And the longer women use oral contraception, the higher the risk. One study found a 10 percent increased risk when oral contraception was used for less than five years. A 60 percent increased risk existed for women who used oral contraception for five to nine years. And the risk doubled for women using oral contraception for 10 or more years. The risk dropped after women stopped using oral contraceptives.
Another major side effect of hormonal birth control is depression, especially in teens. A study from Denmark found that “women taking the combined oral contraceptive were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and those using progestin-only pills (also known as the ‘mini-pill’) were 24 percent more likely.” Teens had an 80 percent increased risk of depression when taking the combined pill and double the risk with the progestin-only pill.
6. Alterations in the Brain
Research released in 2019 found that women using birth control pills had “significantly smaller hypothalamus volume” compared to women who do not take the pill. The hypothalamus is at the base of the brain and is responsible for producing hormones, and helps to regulate things like body temperature, mood, appetite, sex drive, sleep cycles, and heart rate. The study also found greater anger and symptoms of depression among women using hormonal birth control.
7. Implant Migration
Implanted birth control is a long-acting device put into a woman’s body; however, in some cases, these devices can migrate in the body, even breaking into pieces that move in separate directions. A study from July 2019 shared the story of a 31-year-old woman whose birth control implant migrated from her arm to her lung. Another woman suffered major health issues when her IUD migrated from her uterus to her stomach, then to her liver, and then broke into as many as five pieces. She developed sepsis after surgery, eventually had to have her ovaries and uterus removed, and lost her toes.
8. Increased Risk of HIV
Hormonal contraception, most notably the injectable birth control Depo-Provera, has been linked to an increased risk of HIV transmission. This is said to be due to biological changes caused by hormonal birth control, including changes to the cells that line the vagina and cervix.
The use of hormonal birth control carries an increased risk of short-term infertility among women who take birth control for two years or longer. Fifty-four percent of women who try to become pregnant after using condoms as birth control delivered a baby within a year, compared to just 32 percent of women who used hormonal birth control. Women who used an IUD for more than six years had the highest rate of infertility.
10. Rare Brain Tumors
A Danish study found that the use of hormonal birth control can increase a woman’s risk of developing a rare type of brain cancer called glioma. Women under age 50 who were diagnosed with glioma “were 90 percent more likely to have been using hormonal contraceptives for five years or more, compared with women from the general population with no history of brain tumor,” according to the study leader Dr. David Gaist. The risk appeared to rise according to the length of time women were on birth control.
Unfortunately, these are just some of the risk factors that are associated with the use of hormonal contraception. For decades, women have been told that hormonal birth control is safe and have remained ill-informed of the risks to their health as well as the risk of unintended abortion that can be caused by birth control.
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