Study warns of heart risks with birth control pills

ORLANDO, Fla. A European study released on Tuesday addressed concerns about the safety of women’s long-term use of the birth control pill.

Women who had used oral contraceptives were more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, compared to those who do not use oral contraceptives, the researchers said at an American Heart Association meeting.

“The main concern is if you have higher plaque levels that you might develop a clot on one of these plaques and have a stroke or a myocardial infarction [heart attack] or sudden cardiac death,” said Dr. Ernst Rietzschel of Ghent University in Belgium, who led the research. “That’s the main risk with having plaque, with having atherosclerosis.”

Rietzschel’s team studied 1,301 women ages 35 to 55. Of them, 81 percent had used the pill, for an average of 13 years. The researchers saw a rise of 20 to 30 percent in arterial plaque in two big arteries—the carotid in the neck and the femoral in the leg—for each decade of use.

The researchers said that they measured plaque levels using a technique called vascular echography.

In atherosclerosis, there is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries caused by the slow buildup of plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other material, on the inside of artery walls.

Although several oral contraceptives in the market state that the use of them could pose risk for blood clots, in addition to strokes and heart attacks, Rietzschel says that using the continuous use of the pill is not something they should be alarmed about, according to Reuters.

“Bottom line—don’t discontinue your pill suddenly. Don’t panic. Don’t call your gynecologist tomorrow morning,” Rietzschel said.