Research group: Low-dose birth control causes fatal blood clots

DAVIS, Calif. (U-WIRE) — The public interest organization Public Citizens sent a petition in early February urging the Food and Drug Administration to ban the third-generation low-dose birth control pills. They claim that these new contraceptive pills double the risk of potentially fatal blood clots, or thrombosis, in comparison to other pills.

According to Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizens’ research group, the new type of birth control uses a specific type of progesterone, desogestrel, which increases the risk of fatal blood clots. In every 100,000 women who take low-estrogen birth control pills, 30 develop blood clots — compared to 15 out of 100,000 women who take the regular-dose birth control pills.

While second-generation pills that do not contain desogestrel are still prescribed more often than those that do, approximately 7.5 million prescriptions of these new birth control pills are filled every year.

“We estimate that hundreds of women are affected each year,” Wolfe said.

He said since sending the petition last week, Public Citizens’ research group has received calls from three women who developed blood clots and suffered subsequent health problems when taking birth control pills — two of them specifically used the third-generation pills.

“One said that after taking the pills for six months, she developed pain in the chest and rushed to the hospital. She said she was minutes away from dying because (the clot) went into her lungs,” Wolfe said. “She said she wouldn’t have taken the pills if she knew about the increased risk.”

He said the organization urges women to visit the Public Citizens website to learn more and sign the petition. So far, approximately 1,000 women have signed the petition.

Dr. Clara Paik, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and genecology at the University of California-Davis Medical Center, said the estrogen within the pills also increases risks of deep-vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolus, which may lead to stroke or heart attacks.

Even though there is risk associated with using any type of oral contraceptive, it isn’t a high enough risk to not prescribe them.

“The risk of these things is very, very low, even in higher-dose estrogen pills,” Paik said. “Obviously, we wouldn’t prescribe them with such frequency if they were dangerous to women. The risk is much smaller than getting into an accident if driving a car, for example.”

Allison Jolda, a fifth-year senior anthropology major at UC Davis, said she has been taking birth control pills for more than two years and has not had any problems.

While she said her doctor informed her of the health risks connected to birth control pills, she is not sure exactly what they are.

“My doctor warned me about them, but it was so long ago I don’t remember,” she said.

Even though people are warned beforehand about the potentially fatal risks and effects, she said she doubts that they would persuade many women from taking any type of birth control pills.

“After hearing the number of women affected, it’s not really that impressive,” Jolda said. “Plus, the benefits are definitely worth it. That’s why I think I decided to take them even after hearing the risks.”