Contraceptives Safe, But Questions Remain

Contraceptives Safe, But Questions Remain

Reported January 26, 2009

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Oral contraceptives are used by 80 percent of women at some point in their lives. The pills are generally safe, but experts warn some risks and benefits have yet to be examined.

A recent journal article by experts at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute provides insight into hormonal contraceptives.

“As women use these therapies more frequently and for longer periods of time, there is an urgent need to better understand and minimize associated cardiovascular risks,” C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., senior author and director of the Women’s Heart Center and the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, was quoted as saying.



The article points out the reproductive hormones contained in contraceptives can affect blood vessel function and lipid (fat) blood levels. Low estrogen levels have been linked to buildup in the arteries as well as heart attack and stroke. Compared to older birth control, newer contraceptives use lower doses of estrogen, which are safer because they lower the risk of blood clots. Newer versions also tend to use a progestin, a synthetic version of progesterone that is not likely to raise blood pressure and may even slightly reduce it.

“Health care providers must evaluate each woman’s risk factors, especially those related to cardiovascular health, prior to starting any contraceptive therapy,” Chrisandra L. Shufelt, M.D., assistant director of the Women’s Heart Center and co-author of the article, was quoted as saying.

The experts say any woman considering contraceptives should be evaluated for cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, kidney problems, obesity and other vascular diseases, including migraines. Women who have a high risk of cardiovascular problems, especially those who smoke, should consider alternative forms of contraception.

SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2009;53:221-231