People have asked me whether there are topics or people I don’t discuss on the blog, for the sake of privacy. The short answer is: of course! The longer answer is that this blog focuses on just a portion of my life and people in it. Some people don’t want their names and faces out there and some topics either don’t feel relevant or feel just a little too personal.
I wasn’t sure whether to write today’s post because it falls into the latter category. I made the decision to post not only because women’s health is incredibly relevant to overall wellness (and therefore this blog), but also because I think my experience has the potential to help someone else, even if it is a little personal.
You may remember a few months ago when I was in the ER with debilitating abdominal pain and vomiting. All signs pointed to gallstones — so much that a surgical team had already been put together and briefed. When my ultrasound was negative for stones, I was sent home and told to follow up with my primary care doctor.
For the next few days the pain gradually subsided so when I saw a nurse at my primary care office they chalked it up to IBS. Knowing my body and what IBS feels like, I knew that wasn’t the only issue, but I went on my way grateful the pain was gone.
Almost exactly a month after the first one, I had my second gallbladder attack. This one was in many ways more intense than the first. I knew what was happening and there was nothing I could do about it. I briefly considered going to the hospital, but had a suspicion it would have the same (expensive) outcome with no answers. So I dealt with the pain along with my new symptom of extreme acid reflux. For four days I couldn’t get rid of the acid reflux. It was so bad that when I ate or drank anything (literally anything) it would trigger intense head pain as well.
Finally that subsided on the 4th of July (thankfully) after lots of antacids and misery. Given the cyclical nature of what I had been experiencing, I started looking back at the previous two months. I had already been tracking my food to see if I could find any triggers (I couldn’t), but what I did realize was that I had started a new birth control the same month as my first attack.
I hadn’t given it much thought because it was a kind I used in college (NuvaRing) and the only issue I had then was extreme headaches. A doctor at my primary care doctor’s office had prescribed it because there was such a long wait for me to get in to get an IUD.
My appointment for the IUD was scheduled for early August, so I didn’t replace the NuvaRing at the end of July. It was the first month with no gallbladder attack.
As it turns out, gallbladder programs are a rare but serious risk of using NuvaRing.
When I went in to meet with the OB/GYN for my IUD, I explained to her what had been happening and she was very quick to agree that it was the NuvaRing causing my problems.
She said that the estrogen in NuvaRing causes issues related to the gallbladder and acid reflux in some women, particularly those who may already be estrogen dominant. Luckily, the IUD I was getting contains no estrogen. My doctor made it clear that I should stay away from estrogen moving forward.
I was both relieved to know that (hopefully) my gallbladder issues are behind me and frustrated that none of the doctors or nurses I saw in the ER or in follow-up mentioned this could be an issue. This is particularly frustrating because I went to the ER at the same hospital group that prescribed my NuvaRing so the prescription was on my main medical record that was pulled up multiple times while I was at the ER and again when I went in for follow-up.
While I certainly understand that doctors can’t catch everything or know every single drug interaction and side effect, it is frustrating that no one caught it. As convinced as the doctors were in the ER that it was gallstones, and as shocked as they were when it wasn’t, you would think one of them would have thought to ask me again about prescriptions I’m taking or look at my chart for that info rather than sending me on my way with prescriptions for antacids and pain.
The point of this story is to tell you to be an advocate for yourself when it comes to your medical care. If you don’t feel like something is right or that there may be more to what is going on with you, speak up. Whether we want to admit it or not, women are often undermined when it comes to medical issues. We’re seen as worriers and hypochondriacs (think about the history of hysteria) and often times our concerns are swept under the rug.
I’m living proof that those rare but serious side effects really can happen. Don’t let a doctor dismiss your concerns because what you’re saying is unlikely. A doctor may be an expert in medicine, but you are the expert on your own body.
It’s up to you to fight for you.