One in four deaths worldwide are from conditions caused by thrombosis, according to the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH).
For such a big killer, which costs the NHS an estimated £640 million annually, it’s surprising then that many aren’t aware of the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) which, if left undiagnosed, can lead to death.
To coincide with World Thrombosis Day and to raise awareness of the condition, Alyce Clark, 26, shared her story to The Huffington Post UK about how she survived a pulmonary embolism (blood clot on the lung), which she believes was caused by the combined contraceptive pill Microgynon.
Alyce Clark was taking time off work due to a back injury when she started to experience shortness of breath.
“I just thought I needed more exercise, as I was having time off work due to a back injury,” she said.
Two weeks later, on 26 February 2010, Clark collapsed at home with blood coming from her mouth and nose. She was violently sick and unable to get up off the floor.
“My body was shutting down,” she recalled. “When the ambulance arrived and they got me in, I experienced the most agonising pain imaginable in my back, stomach and chest.
“I asked for morphine and I don’t remember anything after that. I went into cardiac arrest seven times and had a stroke.”
Clark, who is from Kent, was sent for a CT scan in hospital which confirmed that she had a bilateral pulmonary embolism.
She had lost a lot of blood and needed a ventilator to help her breathe.
“I was put in a medically-induced coma for a few days as I was on all sorts of medication and was trying to rip things out,” she said.
“I was given Fragmin, a type of medication to stop my blood clotting.”
Clark claimed that the combined contraceptive pill Microgynon, plus the fact she wasn’t as mobile as she normally was due to a back injury, had contributed to the thrombosis.
A spokesperson for Microgynon’s manufacturer, Bayer, told The Huffington Post UK, that the company takes the safety of its products very seriously and continuously reviews safety profiles.
“We investigate reports on side effects thoroughly and collaborate closely with regulatory authorities concerning the use, benefits and risks of all products,” a spokesperson said.
“Combined Hormonal Contraceptives (CHCs), like Microgynon, are among the most systematically studied and widely used medical products available today.
“Risk of blood clots is slightly increased for women taking CHCs when compared with non-users. This is a well-known class effect of all CHCs as is clearly stated in the patient information leaflet of CHCs. The risk however of blood clots in a woman taking a CHC is smaller than the risk of blood clots associated with pregnancy.”
Beverley Hunt, Professor of Thrombosis and Haemostasis at King’s College London, told HuffPost UK: “The use of any combined contraceptive pill (combined means a combination of oestrogen with progesterone) almost triples the risk of blood clots, though the baseline risk is small.”
She added that the ‘mini pill’ (or progesterone only pill) does not increase risk of blood clots, “but needs to be taken reliably every day or it does not provide effective contraception”.
Other risk factors for blood clots include being overweight, undergoing hormone replacement therapy, smoking and not being active enough. Older people and pregnant women are also more at risk because their blood becomes “stickier”.
As a result of her pulmonary embolism, Alyce Clark now has to take the drug Rivaroxaban for life.
She said there is a distinct lack of awareness surrounding PE, DVT and venous thromboembolism (VTE), and has urged others to be cautious of what medication they take, to know their family history and to know their body.
“If something isn’t right, seek medical help and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said.
How can you prevent thrombosis?
:: Be aware of the risk factors.
:: Be proactive: If you are admitted to the hospital, or if you are having surgery, ask your doctor for a VTE risk assessment. Also ask whether you may be a candidate for preventive methods.
:: Know the signs and symptoms. The most common symptom of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is pain alone. A minority of DVT also have tenderness in the calf or thigh, swelling of the leg, foot or ankle, redness or noticeable discoloration, and warmth. People with a clot in the lung—a pulmonary embolism – may experience shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain, rapid heart rate, light-headedness and/or even pass out.