to 45% of American women of reproductive age use oral contraception
- otherwise known as birth control pills or "the pill" - to
prevent unwanted pregnancy. New oral contraceptives have recently
been developed to be safer than their predecessors, which
were linked to heart attacks. These third-generation contraceptives
have been suggested to actually protect against heart attacks,
yet a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine
provided different results.
The study examined the association between first-, second-
and third-generation oral contraceptives and heart attacks
in the Netherlands. Approximately 250 women who had suffered
a heart attack and nearly 1,000 other women who had not were
selected for the study. The 18- to 49-year-old women provided
information on oral contraceptive use and other heart-attack
Using any type of oral contraceptive doubled heart-attack
risk. In particular, first-generation oral contraceptives
increased heart-attack risk by 2.7 times; second-generation
contraceptives increased risk 2.5 times; and third-generation
contraceptives increased risk 1.3 times. Risks were highest
among women who smoked, had diabetes, or had high levels of
"bad" (LDL) cholesterol.
The data for third-generation oral contraceptives are inconclusive.
Yet it appears that although they may provide a decreased
risk for heart attacks compared to first- and second-generation
pills, they may still slightly increase your risk for a heart
Tanis BC, van den Bosch M, Kemmeren JM, et al. Oral contraceptives
and the risk of myocardial infarction. The New England
Journal of Medicine 2001:345(25), pp. 1787-1793.
For more information on the adverse effects of drugs, go