The ER Doctor Didn’t Know Birth Control Could Cause PEs: Betsy’s Story

The ER Doctor Didn’t Know Birth Control Could Cause PEs: Betsy’s Story

On Sept. 7, 2016, I escaped sudden death by bilateral pulmonary emboli, a side effect of taking hormonal contraceptives.

That morning, my heart was racing when I went to the bathroom to get ready. I was winded when I stood up. Denial had kept me from going, but I knew I needed to go to the ER.

I hadn’t experienced any DVT symptoms. As a teacher, the new year had begun typically that August, but whenever I stood up, used my teacher’s voice, or walked up the stairs, I felt like I had to take an extra breath or two. I had minor chest pain, but I’d had chest pain in the past, and it was never anything serious.

I Googled my symptoms and convinced myself I couldn’t possibly have a PE because many people died instantly or had immediate consequences.

At the gym, I noted that my heart rate was outrageously high. In denial, I told myself I couldn’t possibly work out if I actually had PEs.

In just a few days, my symptoms worsened. When I called and explained my symptoms to multiple doctors, I was scheduled for appointments weeks away. I said I use a vaginal contraceptive ring and worried about blood clots; they said to go to urgent care if it got worse.

On Sept. 6, 2016, I finally told my husband what I thought was happening. I had been too scared to say it out loud.

The anxiety of wondering whether or not I’d die in my sleep only raised my heart rate more. That night, my heart was beating so fast that it woke me, and I had pain on both sides of my chest and in my shoulder.

What kept me from getting up and heading to the hospital?


In the morning, I noticed my racing pulse and knew that I shouldn’t be out of breath from getting out of bed, so I went to the ER.

A D-dimer can help indicate if PEs are a risk, but that wasn’t the first test done. When my ER doc casually mentioned he would check for PEs, I told him I was concerned because of the contraceptive ring, and he told me that he’d never heard of that causing PEs.

My D-dimer was astronomical; a CT confirmed multiple bilateral PEs.

It’s important to know your risk for blood clots. I’m not saying not to take estrogen. I’m saying to know your risk, know the signs, be your own advocate, and make an informed decision.


How is a PE Diagnosed?
Psychological Impact of Blood Clots
Signs and Symptoms

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