If you are on birth control pills or planning to start one, you may be worried about the risk of blood clots. But do birth control pills really cause blood clots? If yes, what is the incidence? 

As many women had these questions, we decided to dedicate this article to answer this question. We reviewed medical research on the topic of birth control pills and blood clots. Let us analyze what the research says. 

Before we jump onto the full analysis, let us cover the basics about birth control pills and blood clots.

What are birth control pills?

Birth control pills are a type of hormonal contraceptives that contain female hormones to prevent pregnancy. 

They may work by preventing the release of an egg (ovulation) or thickening the cervical mucus that prevents the sperm from entering the cervix and meeting the egg. These pills may also alter the uterine lining to prevent implantation.

There are two main types of pills: Combined and mini pill

The combined oral contraceptive pill has both estrogen and progesterone, while the mini-pill has only progesterone.

The doses of these hormones may also differ in different types of pills.

Some birth control pills used in Canada are:

  1. Lolo
  2. Alesse
  3. Alysena

What are blood clots?

Normally, your blood flows smoothly without forming a clot. Blood clots are usually formed when you injure yourself. They are life-saving as they stop bleeding. However, when these clots block a blood vessel supplying the heart, brain, or other organs, it may be dangerous and cause heart attacks or stroke.

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So, how does a clot form?

A damaged blood vessel releases chemicals that draw platelets (a type of blood cells) to the site of injury. These platelets plug the damaged part of the blood vessel to prevent bleeding.

Moreover, waxy cholesterol plaques that form in blood vessels can also trigger clot formation when the plaque breaks open. In most cases, a stroke or heart attack occurs when a plaque suddenly bursts in these organs.

Lastly, blood clots can also form if the blood flow is abnormal. If blood pools in your heart or blood vessels, platelets are likely to stick together, triggering clot formation. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and atrial fibrillation are two common disorders that cause clot formation due to slow-moving blood. 

Do birth control pills cause blood clots?

Now that we have a more clear understanding of blood clots and birth control pills, let’s review what medical studies have concluded on whether birth control pills cause or are related to blood clots.

The simple answer to the question is that some birth pills may increase the risk of a blood clot in some women.

Risk of blood clots due to birth pills is low

However, it is essential to know that the risk of a blood clot in birth pill users is really low. Research shows that 1 in 3,000 women would get a blood clot once a year.

And this risk is more with pills containing estrogen. While estrogen cannot cause blood to clot, it increases the tendency for clot formation.

Research also shows that pills with progesterone are not likely to increase the risk of blood clots. Only very high doses of progesterone can cause blood clots, which is not the case in oral contraceptive pills.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that pills with drospirenone may increase the risk of blood clot formation by threefold.

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A 2015 study suggests that six women out of 10,000 taking combined birth control pills would have blood clots.

Studies also suggest that the incidence of blood clots with third- and fourth-generation pills is greater. Some newer generation pills include Yasmin, Beyaz, and Yaz

Besides, the risk is more in a woman:

  • Who smokes
  • Who is over 35 years of age
  • With hypertension
  • With a history of diabetes 
  • With migraine
  • With a history of venous thromboembolism
  • With coronary artery disease
  • Have a history of injury to the legs
  • Who is obese
  • With clotting disorders
  • With cancer or autoimmune disorders

How to know if I have a blood clot?

In the early stages, there may not be any symptoms. When present, common symptoms include:

  • Swelling in one foot or leg
  • Leg pain, especially while walking
  • Tenderness or redness in a part of the leg
  • If the clot breaks from the site of DVT and reaches the chest, it may cause breathlessness, coughing, chest pain, and fainting

If you have these symptoms, it is best to consult your doctor immediately.

So, do birth pills cause blood clots?

Although some birth control pills may cause blood clots, the risk is really low. For instance, only six out of 10,000 women on oral contraceptive pills had blood clots in a year. And the incidence is higher with third- and fourth-generation pills.

However, the incidence with progesterone-only pills is almost negligible. And thus women at a higher risk of blood clots are usually put on the progesterone-only pill.

If you are not sure or have concerns, it is best to talk to your doctor about the ideal option for you.

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