Birth Control and Heart Attacks and Strokes – Oh My!

Originally published on June 27, 2012, on bedsider.org.

“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?

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

40 comments

natasha b.
Past Member 3 months ago

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Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 years ago

something to think seriously about. thanks for sharing.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W.3 years ago

Vasectomies for all males.

anne t.
anne t.3 years ago

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.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

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

J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

good reminder

Alison Sayers
Alison Sayers3 years ago

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.

Artemis Rose Greenforest
Past Member 3 years ago

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.

Jim F.
Past Member 3 years ago

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?