New Warning Says The Birth Control Patch Increases Health Risks

By: Summer Knowles
By: Summer Knowles

November 11, 2005

The Federal Drug Administration is warning women choosing to use the Ortho Evra birth control patch over the pill that they're putting themselves at higher risk for serious side effects.

The Ortho Evra birth control patch is very thin and lightweight, and for millions of women it's an easy alternative to the pill because you only have to worry about once a week.

But the FDA and makers of the patch are now warning women that it might put them at a higher risk for blood clots and other serious side effects than previously thought.

"While I was using it I didn't think that there would be any higher side effects than a regular birth control," said UVa Student Maria Kosut.

Kosut says had she known the patch put her at higher risk for blood clots, she would not have used it at all.

"I mean if there are safer alternatives out there, Ii would air on the side of caution."

A lot of young women agree.

UVa Student Shannon Emerick was on the patch for several months when she started having pain in her leg and was later diagnosed with a superficial blood clot.

That diagnosis then led doctors to another known as Leiden Factor Five, a genetic blood disorder.

"My hemotologist told me that if I hadn't been diagnosed with it from the patch I could've possibly died in the future from a complication from pregnancy or from surgery," said Emerick.

Her uncommon situation has left her with mixed emotions about the patch. "I'm happy that I found out about it through this, but also if people are dying from this I think they should definitely do some further studies," she explained.

Some reports suggest that patch users suffer blood clots and even die at a rate three times higher than women taking the pill.

That's because hormones from patches go directly into the bloodstream before being digested.

"When a woman takes the pill, she has a spike in estrogen but it goes back down again, but with the patch it appears to be a higher, more sustained level throughout the day, so the overall affect is she's being exposed to more estrogen than if she were on the pill," said Dr. Ted A. Harris with Blue Ridge OB/GYN.

Dr. Harris says women should consider all risks before making any birth control decisions.

Experts also say before making any birth control decisions, women should take a close look at their family history to make sure there's nothing in that history that would predispose them to clots or other blood disorders.

Several lawsuits have already been filed by families of women who died or suffered blood clots while using the patch and lawyers say more are on the way.

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