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Birth Control and Heart Attacks and Strokes – Oh My!

Birth Control and Heart Attacks and Strokes – Oh My!

Originally published on June 27, 2012, on

“Nothing in life is risk free, and that includes birth control.” Margaret Polaneczky, MD, comes to this simple, spot-on conclusion in her post about a new study on hormonal birth control and women’s risk of heart attack or stroke. The good news? The risks with even the riskiest of types of birth control are still pretty low.

We already had evidence that some combined hormonal contraceptives (CHCs)—contraceptives that contain both a progestin and estrogen—increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes compared to methods with no estrogen. The researchers conclude that the benefits of these methods still outweigh the risks, especially for women who are healthy to begin with.

Noteworthy details?

  • The older you are, the higher your risk of heart attack or stroke—regardless of what kind of birth control you use.
  • This study is brand new, but the findings support earlier research from the same authors, which we referred to for our article “Risky business 2: Migraines, high blood pressure, and blood clots.” In fact, the new study found that the greatest risk of heart attack or stroke for any type of CHC was 1 per ~1,500—a lower risk than the most conservative previous estimates.
  • This study supports previous research showing that the risk of blood clots with methods that contain estrogen is still much lower than the risk that comes with pregnancy.
  • Differences in risk between various types/doses of estrogen and progestin were minor—so there’s no need to switch from a method that’s working for you.
  • The study didn’t have complete data on how many participants were smokers, though they tried to account for smoking in other ways. Still, since smoking is known to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, it would have been useful to know exactly how this factored into the results.
  • Body mass index (BMI) can also affect the likelihood of heart attack or stroke, but that wasn’t included in the study either.

Take-away, please?

As the authors of the study emphasized, the main message to take away here is that though some birth control options are riskier than others, all of the available options make up for the risks in benefits—contraceptive and otherwise. On the other hand, for women with risk factors for heart attack or stroke, or for those who are just uncomfortable with the idea of any sort of elevated risk, there are plenty of methods—like the IUD, the implant, and the shot—that work really well and don’t affect the risk of heart attack or stroke. Did someone say win-win?

7 Things to Know Before You Pop “The Pill”
10 Heart Attack Symptoms You Might Ignore
Does The Pill Cause Gallbladder Disease?

Read more: General Health, Gynecology, Health, Heart & Vascular Disease, High Blood Pressure, Pregnancy, Sex, Sexual Health, Women's Health, , , ,

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Everyone should have the life they want, when they want it. And until someone is ready to have a baby, we believe they should have access to birth control. That’s where we come in. Bedsider makes birth control easier. How? By giving you everything you need to find it, get it, and use it well.


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9:42PM PST on Jan 25, 2014

something to think seriously about. thanks for sharing.

9:54AM PDT on Apr 27, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

11:15PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

Vasectomies for all males.

11:12PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

The combined pill is probably a lot safer than repeated pregnancies close together, but once you have had the children you plan the safest and cheapest thing is to be sterilised. I had 3 children and was on the pill before and in between, and was then sterilised when the youngest was about one. I've had no complications, it took the worry out of remembering to take the pill or wondering if it was still effective if I was ill and I've had a very uneventful menopause. Just stopped having periods and feel absolutely fine. The health of our planet will suffer even more if we don't control the population. We are struggling to support the number of people on it already. By August each year we are in 'ecological debt', using more resources than our planet produces.

3:27AM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

I'm sure this is propaganda spread by religious fanatics, just like fearmongering that condoms cause AIDS.

8:30AM PDT on Aug 30, 2012

good reminder

7:32AM PDT on Aug 29, 2012

It's difficult b/c when I spoke to my obgyn about this, this year, she said that taking the pill actually prevents against many of the cancers that women are capable of getting - uterine, breast, cervical. She said that she has placed older women on the birth control pill b/c when there is a higher risk (due to family history or previous incidence) of uterine cancer.... Just wanted to share that.

12:12AM PDT on Aug 14, 2012

I recently had a woman tell me that being on birth control is tricking your body into thinking you're pregnant! Makes sense really, but not the education I received in Chicago health classes. Many women take birth control 10+ years without giving their bodies a break! Insane. It seems all medicines, including birth control, carry some sort of a risk. You're messing with the natural balance of your body.

12:36PM PDT on Aug 13, 2012

I was a nurse and delivered many babies. Certainly health risks there, however being careful with birth control, whatever kind, is wise. "Hold an aspirin between your knees" is not the best either, imagine trying to walk!

There are risks in every thing we do. You need to look at them as best you can, ask questions, get reliable advice and, of course, you still have a risk involved.

You are the best one to deal with whatever you choose to do.

It is said that driving on any major US Freeway/Highway, is as dangerous as being in Combat. I've done both, maybe Combat is a little safer?

8:00PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Such has been known for over 40 years so I ask why it is being hashed over again now, especially with Congress's War on Women in full attack?

When I was of child-bearing age, I had my 1st 3 like stairsteps, so I went on the pill, was Rxd by family doctor as well as myself medically monitored under his care. There is a family medical history of both cancer as well as heart problems, I am fortunate no effects ensued, but if they were going to surface they would have with or without the pill. I am past menstruation for 18 1/2 years & was on the pill for 8 years in a row. Six months after going off, got pregnant with last child, no problems, & I was in my mid-thirties with an 11 year lapse of pregnancy between...

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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