Should You Really Be Worried that Your Birth Control Can Kill You?

It's the investigative Vanity Fair piece that has everyone talking

The words “Special Report” are on the cover of the January issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The cover line that proceeds it: “Birth Control: The Killer Inside You?” Writer-at-large Marie Brenner reports on the controversial form of contraception, the NuvaRing -- a two-inch device which is inserted vaginally once a month to continuously release hormones to prevent pregnancy. However, Brenner has discovered that Merck, the birth control’s manufacturer, has been slapped with approximately 3,500 lawsuits. And yet this product is still on the market.

According to the lawsuits, the NuvaRing has allegedly caused blood clots in thousands of women. After interviewing a personal-injury lawyer who has filed a number of these lawsuits, Brenner learns that while the potential risks were mentioned in the summary presented to the F.D.A., it was hidden in the “thousands of pages of back up.”

“This is a standard subterfuge used by Pharma,” says the attorney, Hunter Shkolnik. “You bury your bad news in one of 500 studies you have done on ease of use or lipid disorder. Then when the F.D.A. comes back to the drug company, the drug company can say, ‘You had it in your documents.’ If it isn’t in the 30-page summary, the F.D.A. is so understaffed it will never be noticed.”

If this isn’t terrifying enough, Brenner also speaks with Karen Langhart, the mother of a 24-year-old female named Erika who lost her life on Thanksgiving Day 2011. A doctor in the emergency room on that horrific night connected Erika’s cause of death, a pulmonary embolism, to the NuvaRing.

Ironically, Brenner also interviews Erika’s former classmate Megan Henry, a member of the World Class Athletes (the army’s elite team of soldier-athletes) who had breathing issues just ten days after being inserted with the NuvaRing. Soon after, a CT scan revealed “dozens of blood clots in her lungs” which almost ended her life and ended her career.

So is this article scaring women for little or no reason? “The most important thing I want to convey to people is not to panic,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, FACOG, Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine. “For many women, this method has proved to be a successful form of contraception. The truth is, all hormonal contraceptives have a slight increased risk of blood clots—there is no question about it.”

Dr. Minkin will continue to prescribe the NuvaRing to her patients, while also discussing the risks and the data. For women who are concerned about this latest information, she advises they speak with their healthcare provider about other forms of effective birth control such as an IUD, which is not associated with an increased risk of blood clots.

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