The Pill Shown to Put Women at Risk for Heart Issues

The June 14, 2012 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine (http://www.nejm.org/) has published a new study by Copenhagen University Hospital that shows an associated risk between thrombotic stroke and myocardial infarction (MI) and the use of oral hormonal contraception by women. While the overall incidence of these events is rare, there appears to be a definite risk associated with use of the pill.

In fact, the study shows that women using the pill have a 2.3 times greater chance of experiencing thrombotic stroke or MI compared with those who have never used this form of contraception. Danish scientists included in the study the medical records of over 1.6 million patients ranging in age from 15 to 49 years old. The study subjects were tracked for a period of 15 years and had no previous history of any form of cardiovascular disease or cancers.

The pill has been previously studied, specifically in regard to the increased risk to women for venous thromboembolism, or blood clots in the veins leading out to the body. However, the Danish study focused on arterial events, those leading to the heart and brain directly and which can block the critical flow of blood to the heart muscle itself.

In the United States, oral birth control pills are the most common form of contraception in use. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/), in the years 2006-2008, 43.8 million women reported that they had at one time or another used the pill. For the same years, 10.7 million women reported that they were currently using oral contraception. The pill continues to be the most convenient and affordable option for women in the United States.

Though several formulations of oral contraception exist, the study highlighted the increased risk to those using contraceptives that included low-to-moderate doses of ethinyl estradiol. Popular formulations of this type include Loestrin and Yaz. The study concludes that there is virtually no increased risk from pills formulated with progestin only.

Overall the risk to any individual woman remains low, however, all women should be aware that these risks exist before making their contraceptive choice or deciding to remain on the pill. And while the study acknowledges certain factors, such as smoking, were not taken into consideration the data does underscore the need for physicians and patients to weigh the risk-benefit of any form of birth control under consideration.

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