Contraceptive pills a risk for women’s hearts

March 9th, 2011 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) Before you pop an emergency birth control pill, think again. Contraceptive medication might be a quick way to prevent pregnancy, but it increases the risk of heart disease among women, say experts.

A vascular disease called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is on the rise and doctors say it has a lot to do with the increase in sales of over-the-counter contraceptive pills.

“Due to changing lifestyles, it has been seen that over-the-counter contraceptive pills can lead to DVT. The chances of DVT multiply for women who smoke and drink,” said Rajiv Parakh, chairman of the division of peripheral vascular and endovascular sciences at Medanta hospital.

“DVT is a serious vascular disease where the blood clot is formed in the deep veins that are the blood carriers, usually in the leg,” added Parakh.

With aggressive advertising of over-the-counter contraceptive pills, cases of DVT have also seen a noticeable rise in recent times, believe experts.

“The percentage of DVT in women has seen an increase and frequencies of the disease are found in women taking birth control pills or contraceptives without any prescription,” points out Parakh.

According to statistics by the government, the sale of nearly 8.2 million over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills was reported in 2009, a 250 percent increase over 2008. The pills claim to prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex.

But experts explain how the estrogen content in pills, produced naturally in a woman’s body, becomes the reason for DVT occurrence.

“Any amount of estrogen that is not required by the female body is harmful for her. The pills tend to increase the hormone level, resulting in pain and swelling caused by blood clot formation in the veins,” explained Nutan Agrawal, professor of gynaecology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Gyneacology experts believe it is not just over- the-counter contraceptives that have caused a spurt in DVT cases but also the sedentary lifestyle.

“Sedentary lifestyle and changing work culture are some other reasons behind DVT. Sitting for long hours, erratic work hours, no exercise, smoking and junk food make up for some of the causes that have caused a shift in the hormonal imbalance,” Agrawal said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over seven percent of adolescent girls smoke cigarettes as opposed to 12 percent of adolescent boys.

“The reason that the problem of DVT and contraceptives is serious is that we are seeing a lot of young girls in their 20s coming up with cases of the disease,” points out Parakh, who said he gets over 15 cases of DVT in a month.

Agrawal cautioned on how over-the-counter contraceptive drugs have dominated birth control measures for the teen population: “Because of the availability of drugs with retailers, these contraceptives have become the quick fix to abortions in a very short span of time. There is certainly a need for awareness among young girls about sexual health.”

DVT is diagnosed through a host of symptoms that includes pain in the chest, swelling and pain in muscles and legs, and pulmonary or heart-related complications.

(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at madhulika.s@ians.in)

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