Though birth control pills may increase your odds of getting varicose veins, the risk is very low.
Millions of women in the United States use birth control pills to control their menstrual cycles and manage painful conditions like endometriosis. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 70% of the 72.2 million U.S. women aged 15 to 49 use some form of contraception, with some 12.5% of those women opting specifically for oral birth control pills.
Despite their ubiquity, birth control pills aren’t entirely without side effects, and it’s possible they can have an impact on vein health. Though the risk is very low, birth control medications may, in certain women, increase the chance of developing varicose veins and blood clots in the legs. This is because the hormones in birth control pills that prevent pregnancy also affect how the blood flows through the veins.
The Hormones in Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills contain two main ingredients: estrogen and progestin, both hormones. Together, these hormones interfere with ovulation, drastically reducing the chance of a pregnancy. Other contraceptive products like the patch and ring also are made with estrogen.
In essence, a dose of estrogen and progestin tricks the body into thinking it’s pregnant, preventing “another” pregnancy from occurring. However, the release of these hormones also slows blood flow. That can prove problematic; when blood stagnates, it’s more prone to clotting disorders like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and the formation of varicose veins.
This is why many pregnant women develop varicose veins during their pregnancy. Sluggish blood flow limits blood loss during delivery, but it can also lead to varicose veins during pregnancy as the valves in the leg veins malfunction and labor to push blood back to the heart.
Should You Take Birth Control Pills?
Between one and five women out of every 10,000 not on birth control develops a blood clot each year. Though that ratio can be doubled or quadrupled for women on birth control pills, the odds are still very, very low. It’s also worth noting that current birth control pill formulations incorporate lower amounts of estrogen.
As a general rule, the risk is not great enough for women to avoid taking birth control pills. They should, however, discuss with their doctor any risk factors for DVT that would be exacerbated by birth control pills. In one example, a woman who ordered a birth control prescription from an online drug outlet suffered DVT after taking the pills. According to the news report, the company never counseled that she would be at heightened risk because of her excess weight and gallbladder disease.
Before getting a prescription for birth control pills, women must inform their doctor of any family or personal history of blood clots. Women who have stopped taking birth control pills due to a blood clot should get medical advice before restarting a contraception program. Also, the risk may be greatest when a woman first starts taking birth control pills, so she must be carefully monitored for any symptoms of DVT (i.e.,pain and redness in the leg) during that time.
If you’d like to know more about the connection between vein health and birth control pills, the specialists at the Center for Vein Restoration can explain the risk factors and steps you can take to lessen those risks. They will help you make an informed decision regarding an important health choice. Call today for a consultation.