The challenges of the contraceptive pill cannot be ignored

Why does the risk of the pill not receive the same amount of concern as the AstraZeneca vaccine produced?

Article Thumbnail

Image Credit: Doctor4U

IN THE LAST few months, there have been global concerns about the risk of blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine. This has led to several EU countries banning its use for some weeks and the UK making it unavailable to anyone under the age of 30.
According to the MRHA the risk of developing a blood clot from the vaccineis one in 250,000. This statistic has led to questions about why the contraceptive pill, with a much higher riskof blood clots, is still deemed safe to use. The combination pill has a much higher risk of blood clots of three to nine women out of 10,000 potentially developing them. Unlike the progesterone only pill (the mini pill), the combination pill also contains oestrogen which makes the blood ‘stickier’,increasing the risk of clots.

The risk, of course, is still very minimal for women on the pill but the safety concerns over the vaccine have led many women to ask why the contraceptive pill does not receive the same amount of concern. But do the benefits of the pill outlined by Connnolly outweigh the side effects?

Even without the risk of blood clots, one in ten women who take the pill have to experience vaginitis, moodswings, dizziness, nausea and acne to name a few. If you take the pill for long periods of time, according to the American Cancer Society, you may increase the risk of having breast or cervical cancer. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the pill causes weight gain, a decrease in women’s sex drive or a decrease in breast milk production. This highlights the key issue with the contraceptive pill: very little research is being conducted on its side effects.

Several studies have examined the risk of blood clots and in 2000 the British Medical Journal argued that the thrombosis scare of the ‘90s was‘unfounded.’ Studies on the remaining side effects of the pill are usually focused on proving there is no link between side effects and the contraceptive pill. For example, a recent study which showed the main reason women stop taking the pill is depression also found that women who took the combined pill were “significantly more depressed” than women who did not use birth control. Despite this in 2012, the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics maintained that depression is not a common side effect and that the link is still “unclear”.There has been very little research into how to reduce the side effects of the pill, particularly ones which affect women’s mental health.

A potential solution to the side effects of the combined pill may be found in producing an alternative male con-traception to the condom. There has been a breakthrough by scientists from LABioMed who have produced a daily pill for men but there is a longway to go before it is marketable. The pill will work by lowering the hormone that produces sperm cells but lowering it too far could cause a decreased sex drive and erectile dysfunction. A previous study that examined producing a bi-monthly jab stopped enrolling men to their trials after volunteers reported mood disorders and depression.
Fivemen in the LABioMed trial reported mildly decreased sex drive and two reported erectile dysfunction but sexual activity was unaffected so the pill is moving to the next stage. This should be positive news for women currently taking the pill but the BBC reported in October 2019 that a male pill is still years off production.

We cannot blame women for being upset about the coverage of the AstraZeneca vaccine blood clot risk when their own risk is so much higher. Some media sites have used the blood clot risk in the contraception pill as a defence that the AstraZeneca vaccine must be safe and whilst this is true, it means that the side effects felt by many on the pill are ignored by society.

Scientists say that it is inevitable that we will one day see a male contraception pill but at the moment it seems unlikely and since there is very little research being conducted on how to reduce side effects in the contraceptive pill, it appears the challenges for women will remain

Latest in Science