Should health risks linked to birth control alarm you? Experts settle the score
Women can minimise risks by discontinuing smoking, maintaining healthy weight, minimising other risk factors they may have.
Some women take contraceptives out of necessity, while there are those who take it for its helpful side effects such as clearing acne. Either way, birth control is a godsend for women everywhere.
No wonder why the increasing number of studies linking birth control with a slew of serious health risks are alarming many, especially those who take birth control.
Some of these health problems include blood clots, stroke, and cancer.
But how dangerous is birth control exactly, and are these findings have any basis or are they fiction?
In a Woman’s Day story experts talked about this topic at length, settling the issue once and for all.
“There are two main types of hormonal contraceptives: those that contain estrogen and progesterone–such as the birth control pill, the NuvaRing and birth control patch–and those that contain only progesterone,” says Raquel Dardik, MD, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center.
In general, the risks linked to hormonal birth control are rare, says Jani R. Jenson, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
However, they do increase ever-so-slightly the risk for several conditions, conditions that women should still take into consideration when taking contraceptives.
"The risk of blood clots is increased in women who take hormonal contraceptives that contain estrogen, and in some cases, those containing certain types of progesterone like drospirenone," says Jani R. Jenson. "Hormone levels, particularly estrogen, may alter factors that affect how much blood clots."
Published in the British Medical Journal in 2015, a study found that the risk of a potentially fatal blood clot in a vein called venous thromboembolism was nearly three times higher in women who have taken combined oral contraceptives.
Dr. Jenson does, however, say to keep clotting in perspective.
Next page, find out what are the other risk factors of birth control
Although hormonal contraception may increase the risk of problem, it’s still lower than the risk that occurs during pregnancy or just after it.
"In the end, it seems that pregnancy always puts us at a higher risk, yet many women do not realise this," she says.
In terms of the link between contraceptives and conditions such as heart attack and stroke, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and brain cancer, different studies yielded different results.
“The risks of endometrial, ovarian and colon cancers have actually been shown to be reduced in women who take hormonal contraception," says Jenson.
Meanwhile, the Woman’s Day story also said: “Some findings on the cancer link have been mixed, others have been based on high estrogen doses or very long-term use, and many more studies need to take place before firm conclusions can be made about any of these results.”
Other factors, too, play an important role in increasing these risks, such as obesity, tobacco use, high blood pressure and increasing age.
Risk factors such as women older that 35, or with a history of blood clots in the legs or lungs, stroke, breast cancer or other conditions for which research findings have raised red flags "are not good candidates for estrogen-containing hormonal contraception," adds Dr. Jenson.
For those who are afraid of the risks birth control may have in their health, there are certain steps they can take.
“Steps that all women can take to minimise their risk while on hormonal contraceptives include discontinuing smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, and minimising other risk factors they may have," Dr. Dardik says.
She also says that like all medications, contraceptives have benefits and risks.
“Since risk factors vary depending on additional risks and age, each person should individualise her care with a physician to weigh the risks of the medication with the potential benefits.”