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Birth Control Pills and The Heart

Birth control pills are made of low doses of synthetic female hormones (usually a combination of estrogen and progestin – a synthetic progesterone). They are designed to prevent ovulation – the process by which an egg leaves an ovary and travels to where it could become fertilized, leading to pregnancy. The pills also suppress the hormones that ready the uterus to receive the fertilized egg and establish pregnancy.

However, they also carry an increased risk of blood clots, ischemic stroke and elevated blood pressure. Before prescribing birth control pills, a physician will typically conduct a medical history and discuss any risk factors for possible side effects.

A woman with any of the following conditions should talk with her physician before taking birth control pills:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Breast, uterine or liver cancer in her personal or family medical history
  • Deep vein thrombosis or any other blood clot disorders
  • History of stroke
  • Ischemic heart disease, including coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Hepatitis
  • Fibroids, non-cancerous growths in the uterine wall.
  • Depression
  • Migraines

Women are also encouraged to speak with their physician before taking birth control pills if they are currently breast-feeding or have any of the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease:

  • Smoking, especially if they are over 35 and/or smoking 15 or more cigarettes per day
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • A family history of heart disease
  • High triglyceride levels

Other factors that will usually prohibit a woman from taking birth control pills include a history of stroke, a history of estrogens-dependent cancers, liver disease, abnormal uterine bleeding and pregnancy.

Birth control pills do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, and women are encouraged to speak with their gynecologist for more information about safe sex.

Potential Heart Risks

Birth control pills appear to be associated with increased levels of a protein linked to heart disease. In a newly reported study, young women who took birth control pills had twice as much C-reactive protein in their blood as a similar group of women who did not use birth control pills.

The findings, could help explain a reported increase in heart disease among birth control pill users. C-reactive protein (CRP) is produced in the liver in response to inflammation. Chronically high CRP has been linked to heart disease, and inflammation is believed to play a key role in narrowing and hardening of the arteries. They can also increase blood pressure and affect the cholesterol level in the body, particularly by lowering the good cholesterol and causing an increased risk of blood clots.


What is needed?

There are a number of newer oral contraceptives, and ones in development, that may actually reduce cardiac risk. Several that contains drospironone, which actually can lower blood pressure and has some other beneficial effects. It is recommended one takes the lowest dose for the time that is needed for oral contraception.

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