For those of you who have chosen whether and when to have a family by taking birth control pills, I wanted to share with you my thoughts about a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that concluded that certain birth control pills may increase your risk of gallbladder disease.
So what does that mean if you’re one of the millions of women taking birth control pills? Do you have to choose between simple, highly effective contraception and gallstones? Must you resort to less effective condoms or a diaphragm if you want to avoid gallbladder surgery?
Take a deep breath, Pill fans. The Girlfriend MD is here to reassure you.
What This Study Really Means
When you dig into the nitty gritty statistics of this study, you’ll find that the relative risk of gallbladder disease is just barely increased in the study group of women who were taking certain types of birth control pills (those that contain desogestrel, drosperinone, and norethindrone). Women taking other birth control pills (such as those containing ethynodiol diacetate, norgestrel and norgestimate) showed no increase in risk.
The authors of the study concluded that “the small effect compounded with the possibility of residual biases in this observational study make it unlikely that these differences are clinically significant.” Which means that even the researchers think this study doesn’t mean very much. And frankly, I agree. The increase in risk in those taking certain types of birth control pills was so miniscule that it could very well be related to errors within the study. With a study this large, you would expect to see a more dramatic increase in risk if the risk was considerable.
Should You Stay On The Pill?
So what advice would I give women who are taking birth control pills? Well, start by reading the label of your birth control pill. If your pill contains desogestrel, drosperinone, or norethindrone, if you’re happy with your birth control pill, if you don’t get freaked out by studies like this, and if you have no personal or family history of gallbladder disease, I’d say keep on keeping on. If there is a risk, it’s exceedingly small, and switching birth control pills can cause problems for some women. Plus, life is filled with risk. Every time you get in a car, you incur the risk that you might be in a car accident, and yet, you do it because it increases your quality of life.
If you’re on one of these pills and you’re risk averse or have a strong personal or family history of gallbladder disease, then you might want to talk to your doctor about whether you’d be better off on a different birth control pill, at least until we get more data to help us clarify whether this increase in risk is real.
If your pill doesn’t contain these hormones, then the evidence suggests that you’re free and clear, since the women who took birth control pills containing ethynodiol diacetate, norgestrel and norgestimate did not appear to have any increase in gallbladder disease. (This study did not look at all pill types, so if your pill contains ingredients not listed here, it’s impossible to say whether there could be an association with gallbladder disease.)
Natural Tips For Avoiding Gallbladder Disease
If you’re on one of the pills in question and you choose to stay on your pill (or just if you want to help prevent gallbladder disease), diet is key. Maintaining a normal weight and following these diet tips will help prevent gallstones:
As always, if you’re in doubt about what to do about your birth control, talk to your doctor.
Are you on the Pill? Does this study worry you? What are your thoughts?
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Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.