The Unexpected Side Effect Of Birth Control That Nobody Talks About

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I was 18 years old with a stabbing, cramping pain in my left calf. I had no idea what was wrong but my gut instinct told me I needed to drive home from college, to the people who would care most for me if all hell was breaking loose in my body. Turns out, I was right. A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clot had formed throughout my entire left leg.

I was told that I have two predispositions called Factor V Leiden and the prothrombin mutation, which made my body more likely to form a clot. I had been taking birth control pills for years but had recently switched prescriptions. The new pill, plus my genetic predispositions created the perfect storm of factors that led to the deep vein thrombosis in my leg—which would change my life forever.

I wish I'd known more about blood clots and the pill.

I had no idea that I had a predisposition for blood clots. And after a lot of research and learning everything I could about the mutations, I was shocked to find out that they’re not that rare. I wish I had known more about my personal genetic makeup before making the decision to change birth control pills. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but having blood clots off and on for two years and being forced to take blood thinners for the rest of my life could have been avoided with a little more knowledge and mindfulness about the pill and genetic mutations. There are a lot of things to know about the pill before you start taking it.

The situation I was thrown into completely changed my perspective. I quickly learned that my physical health affects all other aspects of my life. I was mentally beaten down, at the end of my rope emotionally, and more bitter than a bad apple. I had to relearn how to walk; I had to cope with physical pain that comes with healing but had to heal my mind and spirit as well.

My path to healing was long and difficult.

I saw endless doctors and waded through feelings of doubt and anxiety for years. Healing is a harsh and unforgiving road to walk, but it taught me how to be more empathetic and understanding of others. While limping along with a cane in hand, I realized how it feels to be stared at, when people only see you as a sickly individual. And I can tell you that it hurts.

My circumstance, which initially made me feel battered and weak, forced me to bloom into someone stronger than I had ever been. It changed my perspective on life and I know now how precious my time on earth is. Going through what I have gone through—both vibrant life and the darkness of illness—makes asking my doctors the right questions and properly researching medication feel all the more worth my time and effort.

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Never ignore your body or your instincts.

Even if you don’t want to research or chat with a doctor about your genetic makeup, always listen to your body. That day I could have brushed off the pain as pulling a muscle at the gym but I didn’t. If I had, that clot could have traveled out of my leg to my lungs, heart, or even brain—all of which are much more serious. Generally, humans don’t feel pain without a cause. So whether it’s pain, bloating, a fever, an unshapely mole, or a cold that you just can’t seem to kick, always listen and watch for signs that something might not be right. It’s always easier to heal when you catch things early and listen to warning signs.

Don't be afraid; do your homework.

All this said, should you be scared to take birth control or medicines when you need them? No. Birth control pills are a great form of contraception for many women—but be smart about it. Get yourself tested to see if you carry any genetic predispositions and research the birth control your doctor suggests for you. Know what you’re getting into before diving headfirst and always tune into your body. It’s the only one you get!

Curious about birth control options other than the pill? Here's everything you need to know about IUDs and fertility tracking apps.

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