A couple of years ago, I was put on the third-generation contraceptive pill Yasmin. ‘It’s good for your skin and stabilises your weight,’ the doctor said. And it’s true. I’ve found it to be wonderful. Most of my friends are on similar types of third–gen pill, like Femodene and Marvelon; many swear by them. Out of the 3.5 million women in the UK using the combined contraceptive pill, 1 million are on third–gen versions. But things aren’t all rosy. In the past week, all British GPs have been ordered to warn anyone taking these popular pills that they are at risk of developing potentially fatal blood clots.
‘The annual risk of a woman of childbearing age having a serious blood clot is 1 in 5,000 if she is not on a combined contraceptive pill. The risk triples to about 1 in 1,700 a year if she is taking one of the older forms of combined pill, and taking third generation pills means the risk doubles again, to as high as 1 in 800.’
The risk of blood clots is included in the labelling for these pills, so the drug companies are not technically at fault. If you are at high risk of having a stroke – you smoke, are overweight, or have a family history of the condition – it’s unlikely that you will be put on the pill. But the sheer volume of women taking these third-gen pills is startling. They have become hugely popular because some people have viewed them as kind of a beauty supplement. There are women who take pills like Yasmin not because they require contraception, but because they believe it will improve their skin or help them lose weight. The trade off – the known risk of blood clots – can seem minor.
The pill can be a woman’s best friend.