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Doctors warn of health risk of popular contraceptive

Doctors in Britain have been advised by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to inform patients that those who are taking “third generation contraceptives” including brands such as Yasmin, Femodene, and Marvelon are nearly twice as likely to develop blood clots as those who are taking older brands of contraceptive tablets. Researchers found that these contraceptives have caused 14 deaths a year in France. Doctors are being told that they must go through a checklist when prescribing contraceptives and to not offer the newer version of pills to those who are at highest risk of developing blood clots: women who are older, overweight, smoke, or are prone to a particular type of migraine.

This action follows a report published by the European Medicines Agency, which found that the synthetic hormones in third generation contraceptives increased the chance of developing life-threatening deep vein thromboses (DVT, a form of blood clot). These newer pills have become popular given that they typically have fewer side effects than other types of contraceptives. However, these newer contraceptives are composed of synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone, and increase the risk of life threatening blood clots six times compared to taking no birth control pills at all. To put this into perspective, the annual risk of developing a serious blood clot is 1 in 5000 for women of childbearing age. The risk triples to about 1 in 1,700 for those taking older contraceptives, and doubles again to as high as 1 in 800 for those on third generation birth control pills. DVTs are often formed in the leg and travel up blood vessels in the body, where they can cause a potentially fatal blockage, or pulmonary embolism, in the lung. If the DVT travels up to the brain, it can trigger a stroke.

While the MHRA advises doctors to inform women of the increased risks related to taking this type of contraceptive, it also states that the risk of developing a blood clot are “small.” Dr. Sarah Branch of the MHRA said: “Women should continue to take their contraceptive pill. These are very safe, highly effective medicines for preventing unintended pregnancy and the benefits associated with their use far outweigh the risk of blood clots.” As noted by Dr. Asma Khalid of Marie Stopes International: “Any method of contraception comes with its own benefits and possible side effects, and it’s important that women are given the information they need to make informed choices.”

Read more here.

Read more about a recent study linking oral contraceptive use and risk of developing multiple sclerosis here. 

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