Is it possible?

One thing to consider when choosing birth control is its associated health risks. For example, combination birth control pills that contain the progestin hormone drospirenone can raise your risk of a pulmonary embolism.

Drospirenone is commonly combined with ethinyl estradiol and levomefolate to create birth control pills like Beyaz and Safyral.

It’s also combined with ethinyl estradiol to make birth control pills like:

  • Gianvi
  • Loryna
  • Ocella
  • Syeda
  • Yasmin
  • Yaz
  • Zarah

What is a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the lungs’ arteries. It’s most often caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body (usually in the leg) and travels to the lungs.

When this happens, the pulmonary embolism:

  • blocks blood flow to the lungs
  • decreases oxygen levels in the blood
  • can affect other organs

If not treated early, a pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. About one-third of people with undiagnosed or untreated pulmonary embolisms die from the condition. Early treatment greatly reduces the risk of death.

How likely is a pulmonary embolism the result of birth control?

Not all types of birth control pills raise your risk of a pulmonary embolism. Only combination pills that contain the hormone drospirenone are linked to a higher risk.

A pulmonary embolism caused by birth control is a rare side effect, but your individual risk could be higher because of other factors.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a safety announcement that the risk of blood clots is higher when using birth control pills. However, the risk of developing blood clots during pregnancy and during the postpartum period is higher than when using birth control pills.

The FDA’s research found that:

  • Out of every 10,000 women taking birth control pills, 3 to 9 of them will develop a blood clot.
  • Out of every 10,000 women who are not pregnant and who do not use birth control pills, 1 to 5 of them will develop a blood clot.
  • Out of every 10,000 pregnant women, 5 to 20 of them will develop a blood clot.
  • Out of every 10,000 women in the first 12 weeks after giving birth, 40 to 65 of them will develop a blood clot.

That said, not all blood clots result in a pulmonary embolism. This means that the number of women who develop a pulmonary embolism as a result of birth control could be lower than the FDA statistic of 3 to 9 in 10,000.

Other pulmonary embolism risk factors

Birth control pills containing drospirenone aren’t the only thing that can increase your risk for a pulmonary embolism.

These factors can also increase your risk:

  • a family history of pulmonary embolisms or venous blood clots
  • cancer, especially of the lungs, ovaries, or pancreas
  • a history of heart attack or stroke
  • fractures of the leg or hip
  • hypercoagulable states or genetic blood-clotting disorders, including Factor V Leiden, prothrombin gene mutation, and elevated levels of homocysteine
  • smoking
  • taking estrogen or testosterone
  • pregnancy
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • Previous blood clots
  • having major surgery
  • long periods of inactivity, like being on bed rest or sitting for a long time
  • obesity
  • being over 35 years of age and smoking
  • being over 60 years of age

If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor before taking combination birth control pills with drospirenone. Women over 35 years old may be encouraged to use non-hormonal birth control.

When to seek immediate medical attention

A pulmonary embolism can have a wide range of symptoms, depending on:

  • the size of the blood clot
  • how much of your lung is affected
  • whether you have certain other medical conditions, like lung or heart disease

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms while taking combination birth control pills:

  • leg pain or swelling, usually in the calf
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty speaking
  • chest pain
  • rapid heartbeat

Early treatment is key in surviving a pulmonary embolism, so don’t hesitate to seek care if something doesn’t feel right. It could save your life.

Symptoms to watch for

You should also see your doctor if you experience:

  • fainting, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • new or worsening headaches
  • eye problems, like blurred or double vision
  • bloody phlegm
  • fever
  • discolored or clammy skin (cyanosis)
  • yellowish tint to the skin (jaundice)
  • abdominal pain

Not all of these symptoms are related to pulmonary embolism, but they’re all possible side effects of combination birth control pills. You may be dealing with another underlying condition or otherwise reacting to the hormone combination in your pills.

How to reduce your risk for pulmonary embolism

Taking steps to prevent DVT helps lower your risk of a pulmonary embolism. Here are a few key things you can do to prevent DVT.

DVT prevention

  1. Quit smoking.
  2. Stay at a healthy weight.
  3. Keep your blood pressure under control.
  4. Flex your ankles and calves during periods of inactivity, like while traveling or on bed rest.
  5. If you’re having surgery, follow all your doctor’s directions for aftercare. This may include taking blood thinners or other medications, wearing compression stockings, elevating your legs, and being physically active.
  6. Consider birth control options that don’t contain drospirenone.
  7. Consider a non-hormonal method of birth control if you’re over 35.

Other birth control options

If you’re interested in a birth control method that doesn’t raise your risk of a pulmonary embolism, consider these options.

Over-the-counter methods

Prescription methods

Other options

The cost of some of these services depends on whether you have insurance and if so, how it covers birth control.

The bottom line

Before deciding on a birth control method, discuss your options with your doctor. They can answer any questions you may have about the benefits and risks associated with each method.

If you decide to take combination birth control pills containing drospirenone, talk to your doctor about your individual risk for pulmonary embolism and whether you should make any lifestyle changes to lower your risk.

It’s also important to learn the symptoms of pulmonary embolism so you know what to watch out for, as well as what to do if you begin experiencing them.