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More education needed on hormonal contraception

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hormonal contraceptives, information, IUD, the Pill, riskKeeping a woman dependent on hormonal contraception is an effective business model.

Hormonal contraception can have dangerous side-effects, so why is it still sold to us as the only option?

When it was first made available – to married women only – in 1961, the Pill revolutionised sex, and contributed to changing attitudes towards women. Since then, different forms of hormonal contraception have arrived on the scene, catering to different needs and circumstances.

The fact that contraception is now freely available to all women is something to be celebrated, but should we pay more attention to what we’re putting into our bodies each month?

But Karen Langhart spoke out recently about her daughter’s death, caused by the NuvaRing.

Erika had been prescribed NuvaRing four years earlier as a treatment for ovarian cysts – an off-label use.

During the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearings to discuss rising concerns about NuvaRing and newer hormonal contraceptives, Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills, and the Ortho Evra patch, Langhart wrote in the Guardian, ‘we heard the “argument” that NuvaRing, Yaz, Yasmin and the Ortho Evra patch all have “acceptable risk factors” because “it is more dangerous to be pregnant”.

‘Our daughter was not an “acceptable risk factor percentage”, and neither are you or your daughter, wife, mother or friend…

‘It makes no sense when there are safer, effective alternative contraceptives available.

Women do have other choices, if only they knew all the facts.

‘To say these drugs have “acceptable risk factors’ Langhart continued, ‘is an insult to women who have been injured and or who have died as a result of that acceptability.’

The NuvaRing is an increasingly popular form of hormonal contraception, which sits inside the vagina for three weeks at a time, releasing hormones which prevent ovulation.

Like other forms of hormonal contraception, the NuvaRing can increase the risk of blood clots.

But tragically, like many women, Langhart’s daughter Erika wasn’t aware of the risks or the symptoms to look out for.

It is a sad fact that the responsibility for and risks of using contraception almost always falls on women, and that we must choose which unpleasant side-effect we are the most prepared to put up with in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

The Pill, along with its cousins the NuvaRing and the contraceptive implant are often sold to us as a one size fits all solution. They are prescribed not just to prevent pregnancy, but to relieve period pains and any number of ‘female problems’.

While much is said about the revolutionary power of hormonal contraception, little information is offered about the side-effects – or the alternatives.

For every woman I know who uses hormonal contraception without any problems, there is another who has struggled.

Friends on the pill have experienced side-effects ranging from weight gain and acne to severe mood swings and depression. Women with the implant have found themselves bleeding constantly for months at a time.

And what of the unknown side-effects? Is it healthy to pump artificial hormones into our bodies every month for twenty or thirty years at a time?

These medicines aren’t perfect, so why aren’t young women more informed about the alternatives like the IUD and the diaphragm?

Although the NHS is not – yet – run for profit, I can’t help but suspect that big pharmaceutical companies hold more sway than we might like to think; keeping a woman dependent on hormonal contraception is a much better business model than selling the NHS a single copper IUD which lasts for ten years.

We are still struggling to take control of our bodies and our health, and if GPs won’t give us the information we need, speaking out about our experiences is a good step towards making sure that every woman can control her fertility in a way that suits her.

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