Health Buzz: Newer Birth Control Pills Increase Risk of Blood Clots

How to choose a safe birth control method; how stress may be causing your infertility.

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Studies: Newer Birth Control Pills Increase Risk of Blood Clots

Newer forms of birth control pills that are made with the hormone drospirenone may increase the risk of serious blood clots, new research suggests. Women who take drospirenone-containing pills, such as Bayer's best-selling Yasmin, are two to three times more likely to develop a clot than those using older oral contraceptives that contain the hormone levonorgestrel. Those findings appear in two studies published today in the British Medical Journal. Exactly why drospirenone is linked with a greater likelihood of blood clots is unclear, and the researchers said overall risk remains low. In one of the studies, women taking the newer pill had a 2.3 times greater risk of a blood clot—which translates to 30.8 cases per 100,000 women, compared to 12.5 cases per 100,000 among those taking levonorgestrel. "If I have a patient coming in tomorrow starting on birth control, I might not reach for the Yasmin product," Steven Goldstein, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told HealthDay. "But I definitely would not take anybody off Yasmin who's been on it six months or a year and is doing well. I would not throw these pills out based on this."

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    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued some new safety advice on the use of hormonal contraception for women with specific health conditions, ranging from heart problems to fibroids to rheumatoid arthritis. "These recommendations will let a woman know whether or not a particular method is safe for her—though not which method is more effective or in line with her personal preferences," says CDC health scientist Kathryn Curtis, who helped write the guidelines. For instance, oral contraceptives have a failure rate of just 0.3 percent when used perfectly by taking the pill at the same time every day. But because most women occasionally skip a pill or fudge the timing, these methods have a "typical use" failure rate of about 8 percent. Ditto for the contraceptive patch and vaginal ring, which need to be replaced monthly. Implantable methods, like intrauterine devices (with a failure rate of up to 0.8 percent) don't have the same variation between typical and perfect use, since they require no user effort once they're inserted. "Safety is just one small piece of the puzzle," says Curtis. But it's a crucial consideration for women with the following conditions:

    1. Lactating. During the first month of breast-feeding, women should avoid using any hormonal contraceptive containing estrogen (the pill, patch, or ring) because the hormone could reduce milk supply. Progesterone-only contraceptives and barrier contraceptives, like condoms, are fine to use, says Curtis. Most women, however, find that they don't need to use contraception for the first six months of nursing if they're not supplementing with formula or solid food and haven't resumed menstruation, since breast-feeding suppresses ovulation. It's still a good idea to check with your doctor to be sure.

    2. Blood clots. A diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis means you should abstain from any hormonal products with estrogen, since this hormone can increase the risk of clots. Progesterone-only contraceptives, like the Depo-Provera shot or the progesterone-releasing Mirena IUD, are safe to use. [Read more: How to Choose a Safe Birth Control Method: 11 Factors to Consider.]

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    • Can't Get Pregnant? How Stress May Be Causing Your Infertility

      There are women who get pregnant easily even if they smoke like a chimney, drink a six-pack after dinner, and think of exercise as a waste of good texting time. Then there are the women who do all the right things but months and years pass and the strip in the home pregnancy kit refuses to change color. Relax, say well-meaning friends. Chill out. Let it happen. Gee, thanks, thinks the beneficiary of their insight, gritting her teeth.