People Are Sharing How Birth Control Caused Them To Develop Blood Clots In Their Brain — Here’s What Experts Say About The Risks Of Birth Control

A 19-year-old woman named Sydney Marshall recently shared her horrifying experience of finding out birth control had caused a blood clot in her brain.

She posted the story on TikTok, where it has received over 10.5 million views and thousands of comments. Sydney says it all started with a headache that turned into a migraine — and no over-the-counter medication would help alleviate the pain.

After her migraine continued for five days and she experienced other symptoms — like vomiting — she headed to urgent care.

@sydneymarshall / tiktok.com

The cortisone shot they gave her in urgent care worked for a short period of time, but then she says her symptoms came back and she was admitted to the ER.

A screencap from Sydney's TikTok video

After a CT and MRI scan, she found out she had a blood clot in her brain and was told it was likely caused by the birth control she had been on for two years.

A screengrab from Sydney's tiktok video

Unfortunately, a quick look in the comments will show you that Sydney’s experience with serious side effects after being on birth control isn’t super rare.

A screengrab of a comment from Sydney's TikTok video saying they also have a blood clot issue

(And a quick TikTok search will also pull up tons of people sharing experiences similar to Sydney’s — like this one and this one and this one.)

@sydneymarshall / tiktok.com

People shared how their birth control has caused them to develop strokes…

A comment from Sydney's video that says they had a stroke in their 20s
A commenter saying they had a stroke at 20 and nearly died

…and other medical conditions relating to blood clots.

A commenter saying they had a pulmonary embolism because of their birth control

BuzzFeed spoke to Sydney, who said she first started taking birth control pills containing estrogen and progestin when she was 17 years old and she had never had any side effects prior. “When the doctors told me that I was diagnosed with sinus thrombosis, I was confused and shocked. They explained that this meant I had a blood clot in a vein on the left side of my head that wrapped around the bottom side of my brain,” she said.

Following her diagnosis, Sydney has been put on blood thinners that she will continue to take for the next six months. “I am also on oral pain medication. The pain is supposed to subside within the next one to two weeks as the blood thinners begin to start working. The clot should dissolve as the blood thinners begin to work. There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ when it comes to any medical situation, but I’m sure that if this condition went untreated that I could’ve experienced a stroke,” she said.

A stock photo of a woman's face putting a prescription pill into her mouth

Longhua Liao / Getty Images

Sydney’s doctors informed her that the pills she was taking had higher amounts of estrogen and that this could be what interacted in her body to cause a blood clot to develop in this way. Sydney made it clear, though, that “all bodies react differently and many different brands of birth control contain the same amount of estrogen” as the one she was taking.

birth control pills strewn about on a table

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

“Overall, I do not think that birth control is dangerous for all women. I think there are many risks with taking it, and there are definitely some things to watch out for. There are many pros and cons to all medicines and I think that women should just be aware of the side effects and possible cons that birth control can cause,” Sydney concluded.

BuzzFeed consulted two OB-GYNs to get their perspectives on birth control and blood clots — Dr. Marieme Mbaye and Dr. Cordelia Nwankwo, who both have been practicing for over six years.

A headshot of Dr. Marieme Mbaye

Marieme Mbaye

Both doctors confirmed that hormonal birth control can increase the risk of blood clots. “Most hormonal birth control pills come in two varieties. One type is estrogen and progestin (known as combination birth control) while the other is progestin-only. We know estrogen increases the activity of coagulation factors and other normal elements of the blood that allow it to thicken, which in turn raises the risk of blood clots forming. However, the risk of a blood clot due to estrogen-containing birth control is thankfully small — 1% or less over 10 years of being on the pill,” Dr. Mbaye said.

pack of pills

“Progestin-only birth control is a great alternative to estrogen-containing birth controls like certain pills, the patch, and the vaginal ring. Studies have shown these types of birth control do not increase your risk for blood clots when compared to someone who is not on any birth control. Progestin-only options include certain pills, the injection, the implant, and intrauterine devices (IUDs), including Mirena, Kyleena, and Skyla in the US. There is also a completely non-hormonal IUD, the Paragard (or copper) IUD,” she said.

Fahroni / Getty Images/iStockphoto

In general, blood clot symptoms can be different depending on the area of your body. “For a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg), [you can experience] isolated and persistent swelling, redness, and/or pain in the calf or behind the knee. For pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), common symptoms would be chest pain, persistent shortness of breath (especially without activity), and the feeling of your heart racing could all be symptoms that warrant further evaluation,” Dr. Nwankwo said.

woman holding her leg

“As an OB-GYN, the people I worry about the most are those over the age of 35 and those with specific risk factors that increase their risk of developing blood clots. These risk factors include being a smoker, having high blood pressure, or having a personal or family history of blood clots,” Dr. Mbaye said.

You can find more detailed information about blood clot symptoms here.

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

“The main thing the average birth control user can do to decrease their risk of blood clots is really just to try to live a healthy lifestyle. Don’t smoke, try to be active more days each week than not, stay hydrated, and eat a balanced diet with a rainbow of veggies and fruits. It’s also important to let your prescriber know of any changes to your medical history, because sometimes it will change whether or not we recommend birth control pills or something else,” Dr. Mbaye said.

woman heading to a yoga class

Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

All this being said, Dr. Nwankwo wants people to understand that all medications have risks. “Discuss with your provider what the risks are for you based on your medical history. Hormonal birth control is not without risks and potential side effects, that’s why it’s important to be counseled on it before starting,” she said.

a woman taking a pill

“I want to reiterate that any medication — including ones considered very safe like aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Benadryl, and others — have serious risks attached to them. Making sure you are educated on what those risks are is the most important thing you can do before starting any drug, including birth control. Your personal and family medical history is also very important since that can have a big impact on whether your provider recommends something,” Dr. Mbaye said.

Olena Ruban / Getty Images

So, if you’re considering taking birth control, Dr. Nwankwo advises you to first share the reason you want to take it with your doctor. For example, is it just for contraception, or is it for period pain and/or heavy bleeding? “If you have certain types of migraines, then you may be at higher risk for blood clots with estrogen-containing methods. Understand the potential side effects of different methods. Discuss which method makes the most sense for your lifestyle and which methods are most effective for you. When it comes to birth control, it’s not one size fits all.”

A stock image of a patient with a doctor

Kokouu / Getty Images

Additionally, to get more information on birth control as a whole and the potential impacts it can have on your brain, BuzzFeed also spoke to Sarah E. Hill, PhD, research psychologist, and author of the book This Is Your Brain on Birth Control.

A headshot of author Sarah E. Hill

After spending most of her career studying women, women’s brains, and the impact of women’s sex hormones on various things, Sarah realized that despite all of this expertise, she didn’t have the first clue about the way the birth control pill could affect women’s psychology. And she’s not alone in this.

She told BuzzFeed, “I didn’t think about it at all until I went off the pill. I was on it for more than a decade and when I went off it, I felt like I woke up from a nap that I didn’t know that I was taking. I felt three-dimensional and alive in a way that I hadn’t in years. This is what led me to begin diving into the research looking at the effects of the pill on women’s brains and the ways that they experience the world.”

Sarah E. Hill / Via sarahehill.com

And all of that studying and research eventually paid off, in that she was able to dedicate herself to finding out more about birth control and the way it could (or could not) impact our brains.

A getty image of a brain scan

“I think that the medical community is well aware of the effects of the pill on women’s bodies from the neck down. Like, they seem to have a handle on the physical side effects. Heart conditions, strokes, and the like. But there has been almost NO attention paid to the effects of the pill on the way that women think, feel, and experience the world,” she said.

“This is because medical research is focused on safety and efficacy (will it kill you? Does it work?) with little attention paid to experiential effects and quality of life,” she said. “With the pill, these things are huge, since hormones are a key player in how our brains create the experience of being the person that we are.”

“It’s been an issue that has been almost completely ignored by the medical community until very recently. And because the research into this is still relatively new, it isn’t being taken seriously enough by those in the medical community.”

Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

When it comes to misconceptions about birth control, Sarah said that the belief that it only affects your ovaries is a big one. “This is physically impossible. Shutting off women’s sex hormones (which is what you do when you give women the pill) has an impact on every cell in the body that has hormone receptors. And this is true of most cells in the brain. So changing women’s hormones changes women. It doesn’t just affect whether they are able to get pregnant or not.”

The uterus being seen via X-ray type technology

In addition, Sarah thinks that everyone who takes birth control needs to be aware of the physical risks — like being at an increased risk for blood clots and stroke.

“I think that it’s critical for women to also be aware of the range of psychological side effects associated with pill use. Things like changes in the risk of developing anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, PTSD-like symptomology, and even changes in things like partner preferences (the pill can impact who women are attracted to) and the ability to build muscle from working out (the pill seems to lower women’s ability to build muscle from strength training — likely due to lowered testosterone),” she said.

Magicmine / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Finally, Sarah doesn’t think there’s any reason to abandon birth control at this point. But we do need to take it more seriously. “We have been super cavalier about being willing to change women’s sex hormones in the name of birth control, acne management, and to manage period symptoms. We don’t need to abandon hormonal birth control, but we do need to take it more seriously. Changing women’s hormones changes women. And this is a big deal. It’s time we treat it as one.”

Stock image of a pack of birth control pills

Ian Hooton / Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

So, there you have it! Informed consent around the medications we put in our bodies is the least we can hope for. Thank you to Sydney for sharing her story, and to Sarah Hill, Dr. Mare Mbaye, and Dr. Cordelia Nwankwo for sharing useful information for our readers.

Got any other questions around birth control? Let us know in the comments.



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People Are Sharing How Birth Control Caused Them To Develop Blood Clots In Their Brain — Here’s What Experts Say About The Risks Of Birth Control

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