Birth Control, "The Pill," and Your Vascular System

 Birth control

Making connections in contraception

Note: The purpose of this article is not meant to dissuade users from acquiring or using birth control pills, but instead to educate them on the benefits and risks of the drug, allowing them to make a more educated, informed decision regarding their vascular and overall health.

The human body is a complicated vessel with many necessities and requirements for proper health and a prolonged life. Simply put: No one person will go their life without needing some sort of medicinal assistance. Whether it be as simple as taking Tylenol for a minor ache, or as complex as taking a daily cocktail of prescriptions for multiple ailments, the world is as dependent on medicine just as much as medicine is dependent on the world consuming it.

However, it’s important to recognize both the benefits and risks of any medication one consumes, as it can ultimately have effects on the body, including your vascular system.

Birth control pills (also known as “the pill”) are no different. Most commonly referring to combination pills (the most popular method of birth control pills), release an amalgamation of estrogen and progestin when taken, keeping eggs from leaving the ovaries. The pill also helps to keep sperm from getting to eggs by thickening cervical mucus in the user’s body. Additionally, there are also birth control pills which only contain progestin.

Birth control pills are dispensed in either 21 or 28-day packs. For the former, a hormone pill is taken daily for three weeks, then no pill is taken for seven days, starting the process over again after the final week. 28-day packs are similar, in the sense that a hormone pill is taken daily for three weeks, but for the final seven days, a placebo pill is taken in its place, featuring no hormones. These are often called “reminder” pills. During this final week is often when women on birth control receive their periods.

Holding one of the smallest failure rates across all forms of nonpermanent contraception (9% for typical use, 0.3% for correct use), birth control pills are still the most commonly used method since 1982, along with female sterilization. With 80% of sexually experienced either currently or formally using the pill sometime in their life, the pill has been embraced as one of the premier methods of birth control on the market.

Anyone looking to utilize "the pill" as a form of birth control should understand the risks and health concerns associated with vascular disease. With that, here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding if the pill is right for you.

Know Your Medical History

Like any medication being added to someone's rotation, it’s important to understand how the pill affects the body, and consider one's current health and medical conditions. According to Planned Parenthood, for example, birth control pills are not recommended if the user has had breast cancer, or thinks they may become pregnant. Additionally, the combination pill is not recommended during prolonged bed rest, or if you experience any of the following conditions:

·        Migraine headaches with aura
·        Heart attack, stroke, angina or other serious heart problems
·      Serious heart valve problems
·      Lupus with certain conditions
·      Serious liver disease or have had liver cancer
·        Diabetes for longer than 20 years, or severe diabetes
·        Uncontrolled high blood pressure
·        Smoke and are 35 years or older, or smoke and have high blood pressure
·      Need to stay in bed for long periods of time
·      Complications after organ transplant

For a comprehensive list of limitations associated with taking the birth control pill, talk to your doctor or nurse.

Know That Some Birth Control Pills Are Different

There are many variations of birth control pills – namely, ones that contain drospirenone -  a steroidal form of progestin also used in postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy pills. Birth control brands such as YAZ, Gianvi, YASMIN, Ocella, Syeda, Zarah, Beyaz and Safyral contain drospirenone. When considering which pill is right for you, make sure to inform your doctor or nurse about any personal history of kidney, liver or adrenal gland disease. These pills may raise potassium levels in your blood, as well as be linked to a higher risk for blood clots, heart and health problems than other birth control pills.

Potential Side Effects

Like any drug, there are some side effects to birth control pills to consider before beginning them as part of a regimen. Most common side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness and bleeding between periods, usually go away within the two or three months of starting the pill. A user’s sexual desire may change due to the hormones in the pill.

Some serious problems associated with one’s birth control usually have preceding side effects – report these problems to your health care provider if you experience them:

·      A new lump in your breast
·      A sudden, severe headache
·      Achy soreness in the leg
·      Aura – Visual of bright, flashing skewed lines, followed by a severe headache
·      Intense abdomen or chest pain
·      Having no period after having a period every month
·      Difficulty breathing
·      Yellowing of the eyes or skin

If one decides to stop using the pill, it usually takes 1-2 months for a user’s periods to return to the cycle they had before taking the pill. Additionally, periods may become irregular, or not show up at all; side effects such as these can go on for as much as six months, and are more common if periods were irregular before its use.

The Pill and Vascular Health

Finally, there are some links to birth control pills and effects on the vascular system. In cases, women using birth control pills can suffer from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – a condition where a deeply rooted vein inside the leg muscle can receive a blood clot, most commonly in the pelvis, thigh or calf, but also in an arm or your chest. DVT can be located and diagnosed if the patient shows swelling in the extremity, redness, warmth, tenderness or pain that worsens with walking or standing. Duplex ultrasound and venograms can help to confirm this diagnosis.

Thankfully, there are many options for those suffering from DVT, from wearing compression stockings, to undergoing thrombolytics or a venous thrombectomy, where the clot is either surgically dissolved or removed, respectively.

If untreated, however, there are other conditions that can result from DVT. For example, a pulmonary embolism could occur, where a blood clot from DVT dislodges and travels to the lung, blocking the blood supply to that part of the organ, increases blood pressure and makes it difficult to pump blood to that part of the body. If found using a chest x-ray, electrocardiography or alternate method, treatment options for pulmonary embolism vary, depending on the signs, symptoms and the extent of the disease.

May-Thurner syndrome (MTS) is another possibility as a result of DVT. Diagnosed through an ultrasound, computed tomography scan, intravascular ultrasound or angiography, MTS is a congenital condition that many women (and some men) may be unaware they have. Those afflicted with MTS have severe compression of the iliac vein, resulting in blood clots in the deep veins of the leg. When treating MTS, the goal is to reduce symptoms, as well as reduce the risk of further complications. Some potential treatments include anticoagulant therapy, catheter-directed thrompolytic therapy, angioplasty, stenting, and Inferior Vena Cava filtering.

As always, however, if one wishes to pursue birth control and doesn’t fit the health requirements, there are many alternatives to the birth control pills. For more information, discuss the many forms and types of birth control with a doctor or nurse.