Birth Control, COVID Vaccines, and Blood Clots: What Women Need to Know
Should you stop taking birth control pills because of the risk of blood clots? No. Similar to the risk from the J&J vaccine, the risk of developing blood clots is very low.
After a brief pause, the FDA has lifted its temporary halt on the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. Following reports of serious blood clots in six women after receiving the vaccine, the agency analyzed the risks and approved the resumption of the vaccine.
However, the vaccine's pause spurred questions regarding the blood clot risk associated with oral birth control pills. If the chances of developing a blood clot from taking birth control are higher than the J&J vaccine, why aren’t birth control pills banned? It’s because the blood clots said to occur after the vaccine and birth control medications are very different. But, more importantly, the risk of blood clots from either medication is extremely low.
J&J Vaccine vs. Birth Control Pills
According to the FDA, out of more than 6.8 million doses administered, six women developed serious blood clots. Since the original report, the FDA identified nine more women with clotting disorders after vaccination. The women ranged in age from 18 to 59, with clot symptoms surfacing between six and 15 days after vaccination. Based on these numbers, the odds of a J&J vaccine-related clot stand at less than one in a million. Given that statistic, the FDA dropped the J&J vaccine ban but mandated that a warning about the risks be given to people taking the vaccine.
Comparatively speaking, the risk of developing a blood clot from birth control pills ranks slightly above the J&J vaccine. However, it’s still minuscule. The FDA estimates that between three and nine women out of 10,000 on birth control pills develop a blood clot each year, or between 0.3 percent to 0.9 percent. Because of that low risk, the FDA has not banned birth control pills. But it likely instituted the brief pause on the J&J vaccine because the medication is new to the market and the possible risks are not as well known as with birth control pills.
Further, each medication has been linked to different types of blood clots. The J&J vaccine was said to cause a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a rare blood clot in the brain that can lead to a stroke. CVST develops in the venous sinuses, or the spaces in the head that allow blood to drain from the brain. Johns Hopkins Medicine estimates that CVST strikes about five people in one million each year.
Birth control pills, meanwhile, have been associated with a blood clot in the legs called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The medications contain the hormones estrogen and progestin that interfere with ovulation and reduce the chance of pregnancy. At the same time, those hormones slow blood flow, which increases the potential for blood forming a clot in the vein. DVT can also develop while taking birth control pills due to other risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, and sitting for long hours.
If the clot breaks away from the leg vein, it may travel to the lungs, where it can cause a potentially dangerous pulmonary embolism. So whether you’re taking birth control pills or not, you should be aware of the signs of DVT — swelling, redness, pain, and warm skin on the calf — and consult with your doctor immediately should they arise. Treatments, such as blood thinners, safely stop the clotting mechanism. (On the other hand, blood thinners are not recommended for CVST.)
Although the news about the J&J vaccine was alarming, it’s important to put the statistics in context, especially in comparison to birth control pills. Both medications are safe, with a low risk of side effects. Get the facts from your vein specialist before discontinuing birth control pills or refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Know Your Risks
If you are concerned about the risk to your vein health due to birth control pills or other venous disorders, such as varicose veins, talk to the vein specialists at Center for Vein Restoration. They advise you of methods to maintain healthy veins using surgical and nonsurgical treatments. We are here to answer any questions you have. Contact us today for a consultation.