Use of oral contraceptive pill (OCP) or other types of birth control measures that have hormones, in healthy and young women, is a comfortable and safe method to prevent pregnancy. There are some women, though, who may be at higher risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots. It is advisable that all pregnancy control measures be prescribed by your physician; this way, you can discuss the pros and cons. Self-prescription should be avoided at all cost. Dr Brajesh Kumar Kunwar, Senior Interventional Cardiologist & Dr Bandita Sinha, Senior Gynaecologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi - A Fortis Associate talks about how OCP is interlined to heart diseases.
How can oral contraceptive pills elevate heart risk?
Doctors call these pills as ‘hormonal birth control measure’. As the name suggests, hormones including estrogen and progestin, are key components of the pill. These hormones are also present in other forms of pregnancy control measures, such as injections, intrauterine devices (IUDs), the patch, a device implanted under the skin called Nexplanon and the vaginal ring.
Studies show the hormones in these forms of birth control measures can affect your heart in many ways; they may raise your blood pressure, for instance. So if you take birth control pills, get your blood pressure tested every 6 months to ensure it stays in a healthy range. If you already have high blood pressure, talk with your doctor to see if there is another safe way to prevent pregnancy, that would suit you better. Women who consume certain birth control pills may see a change in some of their blood fats that play a role in heart disease. For example, your levels of HDL "good" cholesterol could go down; at the same time, Triglycerides and LDL "bad" cholesterol may go up. This may be the reason of gradual build-up of a fatty substance called plaque inside your arteries. Over a course of time, that can reduce or block the flow of blood to your heart and cause a heart attack or angina (a type of chest pain). Estrogen in birth control pills can also increase your risk of blood clots!
When on OCP, risk of heart disease and other complications is higher if you:
- Are older than 35 years
- Have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol
- Have ever had a stroke, heart attack or blood clots
- Suffer from migraines with aura
How to lower your risk of heart disease when on OCP?
If you fall under any of the categories listed above that raise your risk for heart disease, you may still be able to use birth control. The most important thing you can do is to discuss your concerns with your doctor. They will help you weigh the pros and cons, against each birth control option that is offered to you.
If you're over 35 years, healthy, and don't smoke, you can keep using hormonal birth control. However, you shouldn't use birth control with estrogen if you have ever had blood clots, stroke or heart disease. Instead, speak with your doctor about pregnancy control methods that only have Progestin. These include shots, a type of birth control pill called the mini pill or POP, Nexplanon, and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
No matter your age, if you use birth control pills, you are at risk and should, therefore, make well-informed decisions after speaking to your doctor.