Oral contraceptives (OCs) containing progestin and/or estrogen
are the most popular reversible form of contraception in the
States. More than 10 million women in the U.S. use OCs, although
safety concerns have existed since the products were introduced
40 years ago.
Previous research has raised the possibility that OC use
may increase the risk of developing serious complications
such as heart attack or stroke. This relationship was further
evaluated in a literature review in the July 5, 2000 issue
of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Analysis of 16 studies revealed that oral contraceptive use
was associated with an increased risk of stroke. Smaller estrogen
dosages were associated with a lower risk relative to higher
estrogen doses, but elevated risk was noted regardless of
dosage. These results were apparent even when considering
other risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure
and smoking status.
Despite their findings, the authors conclude that although
there is a distinct risk associated with oral contraceptive
use, "this additional risk appears to be outweighed by the
health benefits of OC use in improved birth control." For
more information on the benefits and risks associated with
prescription birth control (and all medications), talk to
Gillum LA, Mamidipudi SK, Johnston SC. Ischemic stroke risk
with oral contraceptives: a meta-analysis. Journal of the
American Medical Association, July 5, 2000: Vol. 284,
No. 1, pp72-8.