Pill linked to rise in blood clots in women

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the most controversial health scares of recent years is rekindled today with the publication of a study linking newer brands of the contraceptive pill with the rise in the number of women admitted to hospital with blood clots.

Four years ago, a government warning that newer, third generation brands of the pill almost doubled the risk of blood clots caused near-panic among women, many of whom dumped their supplies, triggering a sharp rise in the abortion rate. Family planning groups and some scientists accused the Government of over-reacting after it advised women to consider switching to older, second generation brands.

Today, Danish researchers report in the British Medical Journal a 17 per cent increase in admission rates to hospital for women with blood clots between 1977 and 1993. They note that there was no corresponding increase in blood clots in men and suggest there could be a link with the rise in prescribing of newer brands.

Third generation brands of the pill, containing smaller doses of more powerful hormones, were introduced in the early 1980s. In Britain, third generation brands rose to take over 60 per cent of the market but fell back to about 25 per cent after the 1995 government warning. But manufacturers, who stood to make more money out of third generation pills, appealed against the decision and last April the Government executed a policy reversal, effectively rescinding its earlier advice.

In an editorial accompanying the Danish study in the journal, Dr Paul O'Brien, of Parkside NHS Trust, London, says the older, second generation brands should be the first choice for women. The increased risk of blood clots with third generation pills is real, though small, and their claimed advantages in terms of reduced side effects are unproven. He concludes: "It is not that third generation contraceptives are unsafe - it is just that we have something safer."