(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Oral contraceptives are used by 80 percent of women
at some point in their lives. The pills are generally safe, but experts warn
some risks and benefits have yet to be examined.
A recent journal article by experts at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute provides
insight into hormonal contraceptives.
"As women use these therapies more frequently and for longer periods of time,
there is an urgent need to better understand and minimize associated
cardiovascular risks," C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., senior author and director of
the Women’s Heart Center and the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at
the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, was quoted as saying.
The article points out the reproductive hormones contained in contraceptives can
affect blood vessel function and lipid (fat) blood levels. Low estrogen levels
have been linked to buildup in the arteries as well as heart attack and stroke.
Compared to older birth control, newer contraceptives use lower doses of
estrogen, which are safer because they lower the risk of blood clots. Newer
versions also tend to use a progestin, a synthetic version of progesterone that
is not likely to raise blood pressure and may even slightly reduce it.
"Health care providers must evaluate each woman’s risk factors, especially those
related to cardiovascular health, prior to starting any contraceptive therapy,"
Chrisandra L. Shufelt, M.D., assistant director of the Women’s Heart Center and
co-author of the article, was quoted as saying.
The experts say any woman considering contraceptives should be evaluated for
cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, kidney problems, obesity
and other vascular diseases, including migraines. Women who have a high risk of
cardiovascular problems, especially those who smoke, should consider alternative
forms of contraception.
SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2009;53:221-231