Girls tell us the conflicting medical advice they’ve been given about contraception

‘There’s so much contradictory information that you’d expect your doctor to be the one to set the record straight’

The decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine in under 40s due to blood clots has drawn attention to the risks girls take month in month out when using contraception. Some types of the combined pill have a blood clot risk more than 100 times that of the AstraZeneca vaccine but are still widely used.

Choosing which contraception is right for you can feel like a minefield. You’d think doctors would be able to give us some clarity to help us make decisions on what contraception to use. But no. The Tab spoke to nine girls who told us about the conflicting medical advice they’d received, which they say left them feeling confused, unheard, and unsafe.

Cerys, London

I’m on Dianette so there’s a higher risk of blood clots. But my doctors at home tell me it’s fine to stay on it for longer than a year because I’m young and don’t have medical problems. However, my uni doctors pretty much refuse to give it to me unless I beg and say that others don’t work. It’s the only one that can control my periods and acne.

I find it so annoying that the doctors’ information and opinions change all the time. I’m on it again now but it was a fight to get here.

Tali, Leeds

I have autism and a history of depression and mood swings. So, I asked my doctor about contraception that I wouldn’t have to take daily (because I’d forget), that wouldn’t exacerbate my mental health symptoms, and be able to also help with my extremely painful period cramps.

After a while we settled on an IUD because you ‘set it and forget it’ for the next five years. It also only releases hormones directly into your womb and a lesser amount than the pill.

I chose that, got it put in. It was a painful process and very uncomfortable. Because I’m autistic and handle pain and touch badly, I asked for a painkiller but was just given the regular ibuprofen. Getting it in was quick and fine and a little painful but the nurse was fab.

About a week later and I still had some mild cramps but they were nothing to worry about, as they can happen after IUD insertion. But then the IUD adjusting gave me extreme pain. It would start around the same time over the span of five days. Extreme radiating pain as – like being stabbed from the inside. I could feel it in my spine, my thighs, everywhere. It was unbearable.

I went to an out-of-hours GP but the doctor that saw me didn’t believe just how much pain I was in. He did the check, prescribed some paracetamol and co-codamol tablets and sent me home. I went back the next day and went to the actual A&E and was given morphine because the pain was so severe and I was still in extreme pain for the next five hours.

I was sent to a different hospital and then examined but it seemed like everything was still in order. I still don’t know what happened and why I was in so much pain.

Izzy, Southampton

I went on the combined pill when i was super young, because of my periods, and I don’t remember ever getting told anything about it really by the doctors – they sort of just whacked me on it. Then as I got older and started to do my own research, In saw there’s obviously an increased risk of stroke, which worried me as my grandma had a stroke when she was really young and she eventually died as a result.

I brought it up to doctors and nurses at a few pill check ups but they always just dismissed me and said it was fine without properly explaining why? Like they’d legit never listen to me being like “but is this okay though because I’m genuinely worried” and had read all this stuff online – from official websites too, including the NHS’ own site.

Lucy, Edinburgh Napier

One doctor told me my mental health wasn’t a big enough concern to not go on the pill because I was already prescribed anti- depressants. Then a year later, another doctor asked why I went on Rigevidon when I have severe depression.

Alice, Newcastle

When I was 15 I was put on Rigevidon no questions asked, then I started getting so moody so swapped to Cezarette three years in and then a cheaper brand, Cerelle, and my body hated it. I bled for three weeks and the doctors just tole me to keep going, so I moved doctor and they told me to go back to Cezarette. Fine, all cool.

So then fast forward to summer 2019 and I started bleeding for three weeks. So I book an appointment and they start testing me for all sorts and tell me I’ve got Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and that I won’t be able to have kids. They put me on antibiotics and sent me on my way.

The antibiotics were really strong and made me sick so I went back and saw a different doctor. They said I didn’t have PID didn’t need antibiotics, and I’d just been on the same pill for too long and needed to swap it. I had an ectropion on my cervix that was making me bleed and they and sent me to a gynaecologist.

The appointment for the gynaecologist was in March 2020 and I’m sure you can guess… that got cancelled. So, I was still on this same pill and now bleeding for two months continuously.

Nothing changed until November when I got an internal and external ultrasound to say everything is okay. But I have now been bleeding since late August non-stop so I got to finally change contraception.

I went to the appointment and the nurse starts asking questions about blood clots. I told her my mum’s had Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in her legs three times and the horror on her face! No one had asked me before and I shouldn’t have even be on any combined pill at all because of the huge blood clot risk. What fun to be told that years into the pill! They gave me a hormonal coil and said it would sort my problems out.

But by January I was still bleeding and keep getting told it’ll sort itself out. I managed to get a colposcopy booked and then the nurse asks if has anyone checked for endometriosis – and they hadn’t. She was so surprised as it was her initial instinct.

Now, I’m on yet another waiting list to go get the tests done for that because it hasn’t “sorted itself out” I’ve had to be so pushy with this because I keep getting told “oh no its fine thats normal etc”. Excuse me, I don’t think bleeding for the better part of a year is normal, it’s so frustrating how we aren’t listened to.

Saffie, LSE

I wasn’t diagnosed with Pre Menstrual Dysphoric (PMDD – really, really bad PMS) for four years despite going to the doctors repeatedly. I was then told to go on the pill but that just made my depression worse, and was finally put on fluoxetine (an anti-depressant) for treatment. I took myself off the pill eventually and then went to the doctors again when my PMS got really bad and finally got a diagnosis of PMDD. They told me I should’ve never been on the pill in the first place.

Pauline, Edinburgh

I got a copper coil in May of 2019 as I didn’t want to try hormonal contraception at the time. My doctor repeatedly made sure I understood that my periods would be heavier, I would have more cramping, etc. and I repeatedly said I understood and was happy to try it out.

Cut to a year later; I am having near constant cramping throughout the month, not even just on my period, and I’m certain the copper IUD is no longer serving me well. I go to the doctor, explain my symptoms, and after an exam I’m told that the actual cause of my problems is a slight ectropion on my cervix.

I read about the symptoms, and they don’t match at all with the pain I’m experiencing, but the doctor is adamant that instead of taking out the copper IUD to help my pain we should focus on getting rid of this ectropion (that is a really common thing to have actually, and was causing me no problems might I add) by taking hormonal contraceptive pills for several months (which I had already told her I wasn’t comfortable with).

I ended up just going to a sexual health clinic and getting my copper IUD replaced with a hormonal one and, low and behold, it solved all my problems with the pain I was experiencing.

Lucy, London

I went to my GP to discuss possibly coming off my pill. A lot of my friends were doing it, and we were feeding off the myth that after 10 years you should come off it. My GP was beyond unhelpful – he didn’t discuss any other contraceptive options and when I questioned whether the 10 year myth was true, he skirted round it and said “you’re fine to stay on it – you can find this information online.

I was made to feel like I’d wasted his time. If you Google anything to do with the pill on the internet, you get so many different results. All it showed me was that no one seems to know, because clearly women’s health isn’t considered something worth researching.

Siena, Edinburgh

I have suffered from hormonal acne, along with aura migraines for over a decade. I sought advice from a dermatologist for my acne, and they recommended me Dianette, the combined pill. The Dianette pill has a slightly increased risk of clotting events than more commonly prescribed pills, but works well for acne. I was never asked if I suffered from aura migraines when initially prescribed Dianette or warned about the clot risk.

Years later, a GP picked up on the fact I had aura migraines, and told me I had to come off the pill immediately as aura migraines increase the risk of strokes as a result of clots when on combined birth control (pills, patches and Nuva ring). I was then told by another dermatologist that the patches and ring actually do not increase clot risk and I should consider them to help my acne.

My GP then told me that that doctor was mistaken, all combined contraceptive methods increase clot risk, and that I definitely was not a suitable candidate for combined contraception.

A second dermatologist told me that I could indeed take combined contraception, as long as I understood and accepted the risk, but when I mentioned this to my GP they once again disagreed! As a patient this has been incredibly frustrating as I do not know which opinion to trust.

They seem to act like I am some complex medical mystery when both acne and migraines are very common.

You can find more information on your options for contraception on the NHS website.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Girls share bad experiences of male GPs proving some just don’t understand women’s bodies

• As we’re talking about blood clots, where is the government’s energy to improve the pill?

• These are the contraceptive pills with a higher blood clot risk than the AZ vaccine