By Lauren Valenti published
Over 50 years ago, The Pill revolutionized the lives of women. But as thumbing through any prescription for a hormonal contraceptive (like birth control pills or a vaginal ring) will tell you, there is a risk margin for those planning on being baby-free (at least for the time being).
How *much* risk, you ask? That's largely dependent on your individual biology—but it's also all the more reason you should be taking extra precaution when it comes to choosing your preferred method of birth control by making sure you do your research, consult your doctor, and pay close attention to how your body reacts to a supplement.
But as reports in recent years have shown, even when preventative measures are taken, there is still a lot that can go wrong—from life-threatening blood clots to extreme mood swings. To ensure that you're not putting yourself at high risk, let these cautionary tales be a friendly reminder of how important it is to find the birth control that's right for *you*.
In May, bride-to-be Jordan Ward admitted to her family that she had been experiencing extreme migraines. Ward's fiancé insisted that she go to the hospital. After giving her a CAT scan, doctors learned that she had suffered a stroke, as a large blood clot blocked a patch of veins in her brain.The cause? Her oral contraceptives.
"When I did get the news, I was in shock. I'm 26 years old," she told ABC.
Dr. George Teitelbaum, the medical director of the Providence Neurovascular Center who performed surgery on Ward, revealed that birth control pills can raise the chances of developing dangerous blood clots, especially if a woman smokes, which Ward did.
In summer of 2012, skeleton skater and Olympic hopeful Megan Henry began using a hormonal contraceptive vaginal ring. Weeks after choosing the hormonal birth control, Henry collapsed during training.
"I mean I was struggling, I was struggling to breathe," Henry said. "It's like an elephant was sitting on my chest all the time."
After five doctors couldn't diagnosis the cause, a pulmonologist finally figured it out: there were blood clots in her lungs, which he believed to be caused by her birth control. After X-rays, an ultrasound, and a CAT scan, it was revealed that the clots were life-threatening.
During her recovery, Henry had to use a breathing machine and was put on blood thinners. Her doctors advised her not to use hormonal birth control again.
In an essay entitled "My Birth Control Gave Me a Mental Breakdown" for xoJane, writer Jessie Lochrie recounts her abrupt mood swings after inserting a vaginal ring contraceptive, which she says she went on after a "five-minute chat" with her college's health services. Within days, she found herself deeply depressed and her preexisting panic attacks grew more and more frequent—to the point they were happening on a near-daily basis. She isolated herself in her apartment for two weeks, completely agoraphobic.
"The comparison I made light-heartedly to friends was that the ring was like a horcrux in Harry Potter," she wrote. "It took control of me, made me different, made me darker."
After being on the ring those two weeks, she removed it and immediately felt like herself again. However, it would still be the catalyst for a metal breakdown (which she discloses had been brewing for years, even before the ring) that lasted about a year.
Twenty-four-year-old Erika Langhart had already visited 37 countries by the time she had finished college and bound for law school at Georgetown, but her life ended tragically on Thanksgiving Day 2011 when she suddenly collapsed in her apartment and later died at the hospital. After further examination, the records cited her vaginal ring contraceptive as a risk factor for the multiple pulmonary embolisms she suffered.
"It was, it was a nightmare," her father Rick Langhart told CNN. "They had determined that Erika had no brain activity and that because of her heart attacks they basically told us that she was brain dead and that's it."
In an essay for the Daily Mail, writer Jill Foster got candid about the mood swings and uncharacteristic tearful outbursts she believes were caused by the contraceptive pill she had been taking for several months.
Citing one telling example, in which an almost-empty carton of orange juice infuriated her, she explains: "What can only be described as murderous rage surged through my body. I hurled the glass across the kitchen, sending it smashing into tiny pieces against the wall."
Within days of going off the pill, she returned to her normal self and since then has never experienced anything like it.
In September of 2009, 26-year-old Christen Childs woke to an aching sore in her leg. Two days later her leg was swollen and hot, causing her to go to the ER immediately. After an ultrasound, Childs learned she had a blood clot in her leg and as the day went on, the clot broke and traveled to her lungs, putting her in the intensive-care unit getting blood thinners injected for six days.
"When the doctor diagnosed me, I started crying," she said. "I was stunned by how close I had come to dying."
Childs didn't have the risks factors associated with blood clots including smoking, being overweight, or a family history of clots. Doctors determined that her vaginal ring contraceptive was likely the cause of her near-death illness.
I’m the associate web editor at Marie Claire. I love to while away the hours at coffee shops, hunt for vintage clothes, and bask in the rough-and-tumble beauty of NYC. I firmly believe that solitude can be a luxury if you’ve got the right soundtrack—that being the Rolling Stones, of course.
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