Open Accessibility Menu

Birth Control and Stroke - What You Need to Know About the Risk

Birth Control and Stroke - What You Need to Know About the Risk

It’s hard to understate the impact of the birth control pill. Historians credit it with ushering in a revolution, allowing women and their families to choose if and when they have children. In addition to that freedom, the pill also helps regulate menstrual cycles, reduce hormonal acne, and treat endometriosis.

Despite all the positives, there are risks. Women who take birth control are twice as likely to have a stroke as those who don’t take the pill. Hormonal birth control pills, patches, implants, and vaginal rings are made of either estrogen and progestin, the two hormones that are made naturally in the ovaries, or a synthetic progesterone, called progestin. Research shows that timing can also play a part in your risk. The first few months up to the first year on birth control is the highest risk because your hormone levels are actively changing with the increase in estrogen.

Pills containing these hormones cause the clotting proteins in a woman’s body to thicken, increasing the risk of blood clots and stroke. Birth control patches and vaginal rings pose the greatest risk of stroke because the amount of estrogen absorbed by the body is reported to be 60 percent higher than the amount of estrogen delivered orally by the pill.

Smokers, women with clotting disorders, family history of blood clots or have previously experienced a blood clot should use caution when deciding what contraceptives may be right for them. Additionally, oral contraceptives should be avoided in women who suffer from migraines with aura, a type of migraine headache that is accompanied with some neurological symptoms including weakness, nausea and vomiting and vision loss.

It’s important to understand blood clot symptoms and to pay attention to your body for signs of a problem. Clots commonly occur in the deep veins of the legs or arms, as well as the lungs. Symptoms of clots in the legs or arms can include pain or swelling with skin that may be warm to the touch and discolored. Symptoms of blood clots in the lungs include chest pain, accelerated heart rate and coughing with blood.

It is also important to know how to recognize a stroke and get emergency treatment quickly. The American Heart Association and National Heart Association termed the acronym “FAST” to help detect symptoms of a stroke.

  • F= Facial Dropping- Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
  • A= Arm Weakness- Is one or both arms weak or numb?
  • S= Speech Difficulties- are there difficulties speaking or is speech slurred?
  • T= Time- Time to call 911

As with most medications, there are risks and possible side effects. Work with your doctor to determine the safest and most effective contraceptive for you and talk to your doctor about your risk and family history of clotting before you begin any estrogen-based birth control method.