My Birth Control Gave Me A Blood Clot—Yes, It Can Really Happen

A rare side effect of birth control became my reality.

By Sabrina Grimaldi4 min read
Pexels/Mikhail Nilov

I woke up in the middle of the night to sharp chest pains. Mind you, I’m the type of person who can sleep through just about anything. One time, I slept through my roof being redone. Seriously, I’m a heavy sleeper. However, that night, I woke up to a sharp pain in my left side every time I took a deep breath. The pain moved from my lower back to my upper shoulder to my ribs, but stayed on the left side. I took some meds and waited it out until morning, then headed to Urgent Care as soon as they opened. They told me I had pulled a muscle – hey, I had been going to a bunch of workout classes, so maybe I had? And I went home with a prescription for ibuprofen. Over a month later, my left leg turned purple and got so swollen I could barely walk. What happened to me? My birth control caused a blood clot. This is my story.

What are the Chances of a Birth Control Blood Clot?

WebMD states that blood clots due to the pill are rare – 0.3% to 1% over 10 years for a woman on the pill (around 10 in 10,000 people). I was on the pill for just about six years when I got one, but if this is really the case, then why does it seem so common? Stats are skewed all over, with some sources stating that it’s closer to 1 in 3,000 and some saying 10 in 10,000 people.

Either way, it happened to me. And it could happen to you, too. I am not a medical professional; however, I did think it would be helpful to share my story. I posted this TikTok explaining my story, and so many women commented and shared their stories. Stories of blood clots in their lungs, of blood clots that caused strokes, and of blood clots in the legs. These stories baffled me and surprised me so much because besides the “birth control may cause heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and liver tumors” disclaimers in the fine print, I had never heard anyone warn me of this. 

Birth control pills that contain estrogen can cause higher risks of blood clots.

How does this happen? Birth control pills that contain estrogen can cause higher risks of blood clots. But hey, lucky us, there hasn’t been a ton of research on this. In fact, “doctors are still trying to understand the link between hormonal birth control and blood clots,” according to Cleveland Clinic. Apparently, it’s thought that “estrogen influences the way that the liver makes those pro-clotting factors.”

So, we’re not sure exactly why it occurs, just that it can. And I’m telling you, it does.

My Story

As mentioned, I had severe chest pain in late April. I went to Urgent Care to check it out and they did an X-ray, which came back okay. This was because you can’t see blood clots with an X-ray, only with an ultrasound or a CT scan. At this appointment, I asked the female doctor several times if this pain could have anything to do with my period or my birth control. She said no. They told me that I must have pulled something and that I had costochondritis, the “inflammation of the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone.” They gave me a prescription for stronger ibuprofen and told me to take it easy as I had been trying out new workout classes in my area. So, I believed them…until late May.

It was a Tuesday at the end of May. My little sister was graduating eighth grade and that morning I woke up with a strange pain in my left leg. It felt like I had pulled something (again) or like I had a problem with my sciatic nerve. I threw down my yoga mat and stretched as much as I could. My husband and I went to my sister’s graduation and then we all went to Olive Garden afterward. I ate so much – thank goodness. After eating, I headed to the bathroom, and when I sat down, I noticed that my left leg was turning purple and getting bigger. I headed back to the table and told my family, and my mom had urged me to rush to the ER. 

Side note: My mom had also had a blood clot due to her birth control about 10 years ago, so when she saw my leg, she knew what was happening. Side note to the side note: When I was originally prescribed birth control (the pill), I told my doctor about my mother’s past blood clot and asked if that would cause any complications for me. They said no and assured me that blood clots on birth control are very rare… But back to the story.

My husband and I headed out, straight to the ER and got there around 3 p.m. As time went on, my leg got bigger and bigger and more and more purple. It hurt like hell to walk on it, so they got me a wheelchair while I waited. They did an ultrasound on my leg, took my blood, and we waited. It wasn’t until 10 p.m. that we got a room in the ER, and it wasn’t until midnight that they finally confirmed that I had a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis). After another few hours without any pain management, they told me I also had a blood clot in both of my lungs (pulmonary embolism). It wasn’t until 1 a.m. that I got a room in the hospital.

For the next three days, I was hooked up to an IV of blood thinner, so they could see if it would help or if I would need to go into surgery so they could “scrape it out.” Real quote, I swear. I had an IV in the crease of both of my arms so I couldn’t bend them to eat, type, or even scroll on my phone. There were two whole days where I just had to sit around and do nothing as we waited for the blood thinner to take charge. It wasn’t until Thursday that I was discharged and could go home. Still, walking hurt. My leg was still big and purple but a little better than it had been. My lungs hurt a little, but I could breathe fine. It took me two weeks to feel comfortable walking long distances and months until I felt normal again. 

Even when discussing my concerns with female doctors, my worries and concerns were brushed aside.

While I was at the hospital, anytime a doctor came in, I felt rushed, like I didn't have enough time to ask questions. After I was released from the hospital and went to the doctor, she asked me a few questions and left. I had to track down a nurse so I could ask them when I would be allowed to ask questions. They told me the doctor was now too busy but could call me later. Even when discussing my concerns with female doctors, my worries and concerns were brushed aside. I felt like my questions were stupid and annoying. Looking back, I wish I had stood up for myself more. From the very first day at Urgent Care, I had a gut feeling that my pain had something to do with my hormones, but they hadn’t listened. Because of that, I paid the price. 

The next step in recovery was to take blood thinners for at least three months and then reevaluate to see if I would need to continue taking them. On blood thinners, I had horrible symptoms (like extremely heavy periods) that the doctors did not warn me about. When asked if this was normal, I was again shrugged off by my hematologist who had no real explanation as to why this happens to women or what I could do to manage it. According to the American Society of Hematology, “Two out of three women who started taking a blood-thinning medication to treat blood clots experienced abnormally heavy periods in the months that followed.” Beyond that, “Heavy menstrual bleeding was also associated with a noticeable decline in quality of life, especially among women who hadn’t experienced it before.” Even so, this article goes on to state that there are currently no guidelines or recommendations for this symptom of blood thinners.

Throughout the entire experience – from the time I was prescribed birth control to that very first day at Urgent Care to my last day taking blood thinners – no one listened to me. I was not given adequate information about my health. As a young girl, I felt voiceless, even when it came to my own health. Yes, there is misinformation online, and I would never condone turning to social media for medical advice. But where are we supposed to turn? When doctors wouldn't take me seriously, where else was I to go? When the doctors you’re supposed to trust don't listen to you or give you the information you need, what are we to do?

Sabrina Grimaldi is a freelance book editor and journalist, as well as the creator of The Zillennial Zine. This article originally appeared on The Zillennial Zine. Follow Sabrina on Instagram here and follow The Zillennial Zine here.

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