Contraceptive pill a factor in woman's sudden death - pathologist


A CORK woman predisposed to blood clots had been taking the contraceptive pill for nine years before she collapsed and died suddenly, an inquest heard yesterday.

Jennifer O’Connell (33), a civil servant from Ballyvolane, died after developing a fatal blood clot that reached her lungs. A non-smoker, she had been taking Mercilon, a third-generation contraceptive pill that carries a higher risk of clotting, particularly in the first year of use.

At a resumed inquest into her death yesterday, Cork City Coroner’s Court heard she had complained of breathlessness, pain in her lungs and swelling of the leg in the months leading to her death.

On the morning of her death on February 23rd, she phoned her mother to say she felt unwell. “Ten minutes later she had collapsed. She crawled to the door to let me in. I noticed her lips had gone black,” Carmel O’Connell said.

Ms O’Connell was taken to Mercy University Hospital where resuscitation attempts failed and where she was pronounced dead.

She had been taking the pill since she was 24, her mother said. She visited her doctor complaining of breathing problems and a swollen leg seven months previously, after a trip to Lanzarote.

“She thought she’d pulled a muscle in her leg, it was swollen,” her mother said. “She went to her doctor in September, the leg got better but she felt she couldn’t catch her breath. It was on and off like that until she died.”

In her postmortem report, Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said Ms O’Connell died from a pulmonary venous thromboembolism, in association with a third-generation contraceptive pill. She traced evidence of older, smaller clots that may have been in the body for up to two months before her death, which originated in her leg or pelvis.

Genetics were a major factor while the pill was an environmental factor, Dr Bolster added.

“The pill is a known risk factor for the development of venous thromboembolism,” Dr Bolster said. “This is a rare event.”

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned a narrative verdict incorporating the cause of death.

Extending her sympathies to family members present, she said the case was particularly tragic because of Ms O’Connell’s young age.