Oral Contraceptives - Don't Panic

By Rachel Walden — November 7, 2007

The headlines are everywhere today on oral contraceptives and heart disease. As usual, many of them are sensational rather than informative –

  • “How the pill can make you ill”
  • “Birth control causes increased risk of heart disease”
  • “Oral contraception can increase heart disease risk”

These headlines arise from findings that use of oral contraceptives may lead to an increase in arterial plaque, and thus possibly raising heart disease risk. Based on these snippets, which sound so definitive, you might be tempted to toss your pill packs straight into the garbage. A closer look, though, reveals the following:

-The media coverage is the result of a presentation at an American Heart Association conference. This means that the findings are preliminary, and the data isn’t yet published in a peer-reviewed journal or widely available for examination.

-The study was conducted in Belgium. It is not yet clear how well that population corresponds to other populations of women, such as in the United States.

-The women studied were ages 35-55, meaning that many of them may have taken earlier, higher dose versions of the pill that are thought to be more risky than current versions.

The main researcher also indicated that the findings should not be cause for panic, and that women have other ways to reduce their cardiovascular risk aside from immediately ditching the pill, stating:

“Bottom line — don’t discontinue your pill suddenly. Don’t panic. Don’t call your gynecologist tomorrow morning.”

An unrelated note: If you follow the Kaiser Network’s Daily Reports, please note that the Women’s Health Policy Report is now being produced by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Time to update your feed subscriptions.

4 responses to “Oral Contraceptives – Don’t Panic”

  1. About birth control pills: I stopped taking them after I read the package inset, stroke, blood clots, liver damage….the list was too long for my body. and I always felt like I was PMSing when I took the pills. My body couldn’t handle any more hormones than it already had.
    I use the Billings Ovulation Method now.
    I feel great, like myself again.
    I wonder why so many women have to put their bodies and their minds through so much agony so that men can have sex with us whenever they want and not have to deal with the potenial end result. Birth control pills still don’t put us in control of our own bodies- it gives more control and more freedom to men.
    There are alternatives, ladies- with less harmful side effects.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I think diet, exercise, smoking, heredity and overall lifestyle choices need to be factored in the equation.

  3. Elizabeth, I’d disagree about the pill giving more freedom to men and none to women, but I think the point underlying your post is important – not all women react the same to the same method of contraception. Some swear by the pill, or the ring, or whatever, so it’s an individualized decision based on what risks a woman is willing to accept.

    Margie, that is exactly what the lead person on the study seemed to be saying, amidst all the hubbub.

  4. I always hated using birth control pills until I started using a progestin only (no estrogen) pill. I was somewhat discouraged at first because you have to take it at the same time (more or less) every day. If you take it 3 + hours late, you have to use a back up method of birth control. What the doctor didn’t tell me the first time around is that it only takes two consecutive days’ use to be effective.

    Because of the way progestin works, it doesn’t produce the same side effects as estrogen BCP (at least not for me) so no decreased sex drive, no bloating, depression, irritability or weight gain, and most importantly, no significantly increased risk of stroke.

    Though one should, of course, discuss the benefits and potential side effects with one’s doctor, I myself would highly recommend it. You can read about it here


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