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Can A Doctor Be Liable for Birth Control Side Effects?

Published on January 13, 2023

Contraceptives profoundly changed women’s lives since their use was first legalized in 1965. Before that time, women relied on inefficient and often ineffective natural methods or nothing at all. Today, the CDC tells us that at least 65% of American women use contraceptives, but as society-altering as these wonder medications and devices have been, no medical intervention is without risk—including birth control.

Where does a woman turn when she’s been harmed by a birth control side effect she never anticipated? While class action lawsuits exist against some forms of birth control, including Yaz, Essure, and NuvaRing, in order to personally file a lawsuit against a prescribing doctor, the claim must meet certain legal criteria.

Can you sue your doctor for birth control?

Common Types of Birth Control

With the exception of condoms and vasectomies, the majority of birth control methods are designed for women’s use. The most common birth control used today is permanent female sterilization, typically tubal ligation. This method is used by 28% of women between the ages of 15-49. However, the second most common birth control method is oral contraceptives, or “the pill,” used by 21% of women of childbearing age. IUDs and implants follow in ranking, making up 16% of contraceptive users.

Common birth control methods used today include the following:

  • Combined Oral Contraceptives, or COCs. These medications contain synthetic versions of two combined female hormones, estrogen and progestin to prevent ovulation. Common brand names include Ortho-Novum, Lo-Ovral, Levora, Aviane, Loestrin, Kariva, Yasmin, and Yaz. Some are monophasic, meaning a woman takes the same dose every day of the month, and others are multiphasic, with hormone levels that change throughout the woman’s cycle. “Low-dose” pills work with the lowest effective dose of estrogen.
  • Progestin-Only contraceptives, “mini-pills,” or “POP.” These contraceptives contain no estrogen but remain 99% effective as long as they’re taken at the same time every day.
  • Depo Provera, or “the shot,” is a progesterone injection that provides 3 months of protection.
  • Intrauterine devices or IUDs are T-shaped medical devices inserted into the uterus that provides a non-hormonal mechanical option. Users may also choose one that also releases low-dose hormones to prevent ovulation.
  • Implants such as Nexplanon are placed under the skin to slowly release contraceptive hormones with no need to remember to take a daily pill.
  • Transdermal patches or “the patch” birth control patches such as Twirla or Xulane adhere to the skin and release hormones to prevent ovulation.
  • Prophylactics, or condoms, are worn by a man to prevent semen from entering a woman’s reproductive system.
  • Natural birth control methods such as the withdrawal method and/or the rhythm system track ovulation to avoid intercourse during fertile days of the cycle.

All of these birth control methods are highly effective, but like all medications and medical interventions, they come with risks and side effects. While the rhythm system and withdrawal method don’t have harmful health side effects, they often result in unplanned pregnancies.

What Are Common Birth Control Side Effects?

Contraceptives like “the pill” and other hormone-based birth control methods come with side effects. The most common side effects are mild and include the following:

  • Breakthrough bleeding, or spotting/bleeding between periods
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in mood
  • Light or missed periods
  • Discharge changes
  • Decreased libido

Most of the common, mild side effects of birth control pills, patches, injections, and hormone-releasing implants resolve with time as the body adjusts. However, more rarely, birth control can cause much more severe side effects.

Risks and Severe Side Effects of Birth Control

Contraceptive pills, patches, injections, and implants that use synthetic hormones to prevent ovulation may cause rare but serious side effects. These medications may have a coagulating effect by increasing levels of plasma fibrinogen in the user’s blood at the same time that it decreases anticoagulation factors, sometimes resulting in blood clots. The clots typically develop in the user’s legs, but may then break away and float through the bloodstream. When a clot hits a vital organ it can cause life-threatening medical events including a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), a stroke, or a heart attack. Oral contraceptive use is also linked with liver tumors.

Seek medical help if you’re taking a hormone-based contraceptive and experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
  • Sudden pain in the jaw and back with nausea, sweating, and breathing difficulties
  • Aching or soreness in a leg
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Seeing auras, zig-zags, or flashing lights
  • Yellowing skin and/or eyes

Any of the above symptoms may be signs of serious adverse reactions and medical events related to the use of hormone contraceptives and require emergency medical evaluation and treatment.

Risks of Improperly Placed IUD

There are also risks associated with IUD usage, including improper placement of an intrauterine device. When an IUD is incorrectly placed or migrates it may cause bleeding, cramping, and pain, and sometimes results in pelvic inflammatory disease. One of the most common symptoms of a misplaced IUD is an unplanned pregnancy. Pregnancy with an IUD device can be dangerous and includes a greater risk of ectopic pregnancy.

In a rare but serious medical event, a misplaced IUD may perforate the uterus.

When Can You Sue a Doctor for a Birth Control Side Effect?

All methods of artificial birth control come with the risk of side effects, including rare but serious or even deadly medical events. There are some circumstances in which a doctor may be liable when a woman experiences an injury directly related to the use of birth control. When the incident meets the criteria of medical malpractice, the harmed victim may file a medical malpractice claim against the prescribing physician. Examples include:

  • A doctor prescribed a birth control medication despite a family history of stroke or other health risks
  • A doctor failed to advise, warn, or fully inform the victim about the all risks of the birth control medication or device
  • Wrongful pregnancy due to a misplaced medical device

In circumstances when a doctor does not provide the standard of care to a patient that another reasonable doctor would have under the same circumstances, they’ve breached the duty of care they owed that patient and they may be held liable in a medical malpractice case.

In other circumstances, the drug manufacturer may be at-fault and liable; for example, in cases with wrong or misleading packaging, errors in labels and instructions, and dangerous drug class-action lawsuits.

What Damages Can You Recover in a Birth Control Side Effect Lawsuit?

A Phoenix medical malpractice attorney can evaluate your case and advise you if you have grounds to sue your doctor for medical malpractice in a birth control side effects case. A successful claim of this type typically results in compensation for the following damages:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost earnings from missed workdays
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional anguish
  • Loss of life quality in the case of severe injuries
  • Wrongful pregnancy

Some wrongful pregnancy lawsuits have resulted in plaintiffs gaining compensation for the estimated costs of raising an unplanned child until age 18.

If you or a loved one experienced an injury due to a birth control side effect in the Phoenix Area or elsewhere in Arizona, contact a personal injury lawyer who can evaluate your case and begin working on a strategy for compensation for your damages.

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