The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women
Other Factors That Affect Heart Disease
Birth Control Pills
Studies show that women who use high-dose birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke because blood clots are more likely to form in the blood vessels. These risks are lessened once the birth control pill is stopped. Using the pill also may worsen the effects of other risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and overweight.
Much of this information comes from studies of birth control pills containing higher doses of hormones than those commonly used today. Still, the risks of using low-dose pills are not fully known. Therefore, if you are now taking any kind of birth control pill or are considering using one, keep these guidelines in mind:
Don't mix smoking and "the pill." If you smoke cigarettes, make a serious effort to quit. If you cannot quit, choose a different form of birth control. Cigarette smoking boosts the risk of serious health problems from birth control pill use, especially the risk of blood clots. For women over the age of 35, the risk is particularly high. Women who use birth control pills should not smoke.
"I am on medication to control my high blood pressure and cholesterol. I keep regular appointments with my cardiologists and other doctors. I haven't had any more complications because of my heart disease."
Pay attention to diabetes. Levels of glucose, or blood sugar, sometimes change dramatically in women who take birth control pills. Any woman who is diabetic or has a close relative who is diabetic should have regular blood sugar tests if she takes birth control pills.
Watch your blood pressure. After starting to take birth control pills, your blood pressure may go up. If your blood pressure increases to 140/90 mmHg or higher, ask your doctor about changing pills or switching to another form of birth control. Be sure to get your blood pressure checked at least once a year.
Talk with your doctor. If you have heart disease or another heart problem, or if you have suffered a stroke, birth control pills may not be a safe choice. Be sure your doctor knows about these or other serious health conditions before prescribing birth control pills for you.
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Last Updated: February 29, 2012