Skip to content

What you don’t know can kill you

Young woman sitting on bed at hospital ward. Thoughtful female patient is looking away. She is wearing blue gown.March is Blood Clot Awareness Month, an opportunity for valuable information about the risky condition to get into the hands of those who need it most. So how much have you heard about it in the media? More important, how many teenage girls and young women do you think are hearing about the dangers of blood clots?

While the first at-risk population that comes to mind for blood clots may be the bedridden or obese, women on hormonal contraceptives (HCs) — and especially young women with such prescriptions — are at risk as well.

How?

HCs work by fundamentally altering the hormone levels in a woman’s body to achieve an environment hostile to a pregnancy. However, these changes also significantly affect the blood’s clotting mechanisms, raising them to an abnormal level.

While HCs are not proven to directly cause blood clots, the likelihood of clots developing in a health body is increased three to four times by such drugs, especially in the first year of use. If an individual on HCs has any further risk factors for clotting — such as obesity or a smoking habit — the risk increases exponentially.

Not all are equal

The Public Discourse published an article featuring a systematic review of scientific literature connecting HC use to blood clot risk and found that women are affected differently over their lifetimes. In general, the danger of clotting is increased as few as three times (but as many as nine) for the average woman using HCs, but dramatically increases during the first year of use in women under the age of 30. In this category, which estimates put at more than 5.9 million women, the likelihood shoots up thirteen times higher. But how many of these women (or for children, parents) know this?

The type of HC makes a noticeable difference, with modern forms of HCs showing a higher clotting factor than their second-generation counterparts.

Any attempt at prevention?

As the Public Discourse article points out, the death toll from meningitis in 2017 was 45. This uncommon but terrifying disease is vaccinated in many states, sometimes by mandate. But each year 800% more people (all women) are killed by pulmonary embolisms and other variations of clotting that can be traced directly to contraceptive drugs.

How is society so unfazed by this? As in the case of thousands of other medical concerns, one would expect to see awareness campaigns and product boycotts. But HCs that increase life-threatening risks above normal levels…pretty much just silence.

Interestingly, some of the reproductive disorders doctors try to control with various HCs actually contribute to a risk of clotting, such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which is often co-morbid with obesity. In what other area of medicine do we “treat” a condition with medications that have the potential to further raise already elevated risks?

Pre-disposed for clotting or not, the yearly deaths are too high to justify. There are healthier alternatives than HCs for everything from acne control to family planning, and women deserve to know about them every month of the year.

— Forest Hempen
Marketing and Communications Associate