While the pharmaceutical industry continues to come up with new ways to make sure women consistently take their hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy — the latest being a clip-on “earring” which sends hormones transdermally through the earlobes — the industry still hasn’t made hormonal birth control safe for women to take, regardless of the delivery method.
Orlaith Clinton, a 21-year-old women from Ireland, had been using hormonal birth control since she was 16 years old. She thought her contraceptive, Microgynon, was safe — until she started having a mild leg cramp on a return flight home from a trip to New York for her birthday. She soon began walking with a limp and felt stronger cramping, but thought she could walk it off. Clinton told Belfast Live, “[The pain] did go away again but that night I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and fell to the floor as I couldn’t walk at all on my left leg.” When she called for medical assistance, the first thing they asked her, she said, “was if I was on a contraceptive pill.”
When Clinton went to the doctor’s office the next day, she was sent home after a consultant misdiagnosed it as a simple muscle cramp since her legs weren’t swollen. Instead, doctors later learned through a blood test that Clinton had a blood clot in her lower leg — but they decided to watch her for 10 days instead of intervening, hoping that “the clot would travel to my thigh, so it could be scanned and then treated,” she said.
That’s not what happened. Instead, Clinton began having trouble breathing. She returned to see the doctors and a different one told her that her flight and her use of hormonal birth control had likely caused the clot, and she was put on blood thinners for “the worst case scenario” — a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot in the lung. The scan came back showing that that the clot in her calf had indeed broken into tiny pieces and traveled to her lungs.
Belfast Live reports that Clinton believes “naivety” regarding possible side effects of her birth control contributed to her situation:
Orlaith had been on Microgynon since she was 16 to regulate her periods and recalled being asked during her appointment if there was a history of clots in her family. But at the age of 16, she did not think much of it and said no.
“I was advised of the possible side effects but as stated on the NHS website ‘the risk of getting a blood clot is very small.’,” she said. “I can admit that I read side effects and thought that it would never happen to me. This naivety caused a nightmare for me and I will never take side effect warnings lightly again.”
Orlaith will be on a blood thinning tablet for the next six months before a haematology review which will decide whether she needs to be on it for life.
But she said life has changed forever and there is a lot of uncertainty over what will happen next for her.
“I was told that due to the severity of my experience especially for someone so young, it is really uncommon for this to happen, so I will more than likely be on them for life,” she said.
This could, Clinton notes, affect her future childbearing. “While on the medication I am not able to have children, which for now is fine by me because I don’t have any intentions in the next few years to do that, but it may be a different story if I do need to stay on the Apixaban for life.”
She adds that because of the risk of bleeding due to thinned blood from medication, “I can’t even shave my legs anymore…. I am not allowed to go over the daily drinking limit and can’t take most medication such as Bruphen, Aspirin and hay fever tablets….”
Women deserve to know all the risks of hormonal birth control before they decide whether to use it over other methods such as barrier methods or Natural Family Planning. The risks of hormonal birth control include blood clots, depression, higher risk of breast cancer, and multiple others.
Clinton hopes her story will drive home the point that “it can happen to anyone, despite your age or fitness levels….”
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