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DVT and Birth Control Pills (Oral Contraceptives)

Facts you should know about DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and birth control pills

What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

A blood clot in a deep vein is called a venous thromboembolism (VTE). Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the most common type of VTE, and it refers to blood clots that form in the deep veins of the thigh, lower leg, pelvis, or arm. When clots form in these deep veins, blood can back up, causing swelling and pain.

DVT can be dangerous because if the blood clot breaks off, it can travel through the bloodstream and block blood vessels in other parts of the body. Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a condition that can be fatal that occurs when blood clots break off from the legs or pelvis and travel to the lungs.

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What are the early warning signs and symptoms of DVT?

If a clot is small, there may be no symptoms of DVT. Typical symptoms are related to the backup of blood in the leg and include:

  1. Swelling
  2. Pain or tenderness in the thigh, calf, or foot
  3. Redness
  4. Warmth
  5. Veins in the affected leg may appear larger than normal
  6. Leg cramps, especially at night
  7. Bluish or whitish discoloration of skin

What are the later signs and symptoms of DVT?

If DVT is not treated, it can cause complications including pulmonary embolism (PE) and post-thrombotic syndrome.

If a blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, it can block blood vessels, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. A blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism) is a medical emergency. If you have any symptoms of DVT seek medical treatment immediately.

The later signs and symptoms of a blood clot in the lung include:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Chest pain, worse with coughing or moving
  3. Cough, may be bloody or contain phlegm
  4. Back pain
  5. Increased sweating
  6. Lightheadedness or fainting
  7. Rapid heartbeat
  8. Blue lips or nails (cyanosis)

Another complication of DVT is post-thrombotic syndrome, which affects the tissues in the calf and can cause long-term symptoms including:

  1. Calf pain
  2. Dilated blood vessels in the leg
  3. Swelling
  4. Rash
  5. Skin discoloration
  6. Ulcers on the calf (in severe cases)

Can birth control pills (oral contraceptives) cause DVT?

Birth control pills can slightly increase the risk of developing blood clots, including DVT. However, the increased risk of blood clots from birth control pills is less than the risk of blood clots associated with pregnancy.

The risk of developing a blood clot is highest in the first year of oral contraceptive pill (OCP) use. The risk decreases after the first year, but still remains until the pills are stopped.

QUESTION

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs in the _______________. See Answer

Which birth control methods have fewer risks of developing DVT?

There are many other birth control methods not associated with a higher risk of blood clots include:

Emergency contraception such as Plan B (or the morning after pill) is not meant to be used as birth control, but it also does not contain estrogen and does not increase the risk of blood clots and DVT.

Compared to both the patch and vaginal ring carry an increased risk of blood clots compared to most birth control pills.

What are the risk factors for DVTs and birth control pills?

If you have had blood clots in the past or have risk factors for blood clots, check with your doctor before taking any birth control pills.

Risk factors for blood clots include:

Other medical conditions that increase the risk of blood clots include:

Will a blood clot in the leg go away on its own? Is it serious?

Serious and even fatal complications such as pulmonary embolism can arise from untreated blood clots. If you think you may have symptoms of a blood clot, see your doctor right away.

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Reviewed on 8/20/2020
References
Martin, Kathryn A., and Pamela S. Douglas. "Risks and side effects associated with combined estrogen-progestin oral contraceptives." UpToDate.com. June 27, 2018. <https://www.uptodate.com/contents/risks-and-side-effects-associated-with-combined-estrogen-progestin-oral-contraceptives?search=birth%20control%20cause%20deep%20vein%20thrombosis&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=3#H11>.

United States. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Venous Thromboembolism." July 31, 2018 <https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/venous-thromboembolism>.

National Women's Health Network. "Hormonal Birth Control and Blood Clot Risk." 2018. <https://nwhn.org/hormonal-birth-control-blood-clot-risk/>.

NHS Choices. "Deep vein thrombosis." Oct. 23, 2019. <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis-dvt/complications>.

North American Thrombosis Forum. Birth Control: What You Need to Know. 31 July 2017.
<https://natfonline.org/2017/07/birth-control-need-know/>

<University of Colorado OB/GYN & Family Planning . Blood Clots & Birth Control. 2018.
<https://obgyn.coloradowomenshealth.com/health-info/birth-control/medical-conditions-birth-control/blood-clots>
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