Should You Worry About Birth Control Risks?

It seems like every few months there's a new warning to women about the risks of using certain types of birth control, but a North Texas doctor says women should remember that all of the risks are rare.

Dr. LeAnn Haddock, of Baylor Medical Center at Dallas, said studies that examine the risks of various contraceptives are constantly under way.

"They all have different pluses and minuses, and every person is different (as to) which one is going to work for them," she said.

But all of the results from those studies can be confusing for women.

"It seems like every few months there's a new warning to women about the risks of using certain types of birth control," Haddock said. "But when you hear about those episodes of things happening in a young woman of reproductive age, it's a pretty devastating event."

For example, in May, a study in the British Medical Journal said non-oral contraceptives -- such as rings, implants and skin patches -- carry a higher risk for blood clots than pills.

And in June, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that birth-control pills with a mix of both estrogen and progesterone can double a woman's risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Haddock said the bottom line is that all of these risks are rare. In nine years, she's only seen two blood clot cases related to birth control.

"Hormonal contraceptions all have side effects, there is nothing that is perfect, so you really have to decide which one works best for you," she said.

Dr. Cherise Wiley developed clots after switching birth control pills to save money.

"I was on one type of birth control and, in order to save costs -- I was a resident at the time -- I changed my birth control, which increased the estrogen."

Estrogen increases the risk for blood clotting. Within a month, Wiley's decision had turned the doctor into a patient: She had chest pain and shortness of breath.

"I was found to have a PE (pulmonary embolism)," she said. "As a matter of fact, I had multiple PEs, which are blood clots in the lungs."

"Immediately, I was admitted into the hospital, had to be on blood thinners for a course of about six months to a year's time," she said.

Wiley said she didn't know that she had a disorder that makes her more prone to blood clots. It pushed her risk factors over the line.

"That's extremely rare," Haddock said.

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