What are the possible side effects of using oral contraception?

Updated: Dec 10, 2018
  • Author: Frances E Casey, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Richard Scott Lucidi, MD, FACOG  more...
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Answer

Answer

See the list below:

  • Venous thrombosis: The estrogen component of oral contraceptives has the capability of activating the blood clotting mechanism. Use of low-estrogen oral contraceptives is associated with a lower risk of thromboembolism than use of oral contraceptives with higher levels of estrogen. Although use of oral contraceptives is not associated with a detectable hypercoagulable state for most women, users at a greater risk for thromboembolism include women who smoke heavily, women with high or abnormal blood lipids, women with severe diabetes with damage to the arteries, women with consistently elevated blood pressures, and women who are obese.

  • Hypertension: Oral contraceptives have a dose-related effect on blood pressure. With the older, high-dose pills, as many as 5% of patients could expect to have blood pressure elevations of 140/90 mm Hg or higher. This elevation is believed to be secondary to an estrogen-induced increase in renin substrate in susceptible individuals. Although today's low-dose pills have minimal blood pressure effects, maintaining a surveillance of blood pressure is advisable.  For women with high blood pressure, an alternative progesterone-only method should be recommended.

  • Atherogenesis and stroke: Although androgens and a few of the progestins actually may increase low-density lipoproteins and decrease high-density lipoproteins, past use of oral contraceptives does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Limited preliminary data have demonstrated that oral contraceptive use does not lead to coronary atherosclerosis. In rare cases in which myocardial infarcts have been found, the cause has been noted to be of thrombotic rather than of atherosclerotic etiology. In general, a woman's habits are more significant than the use of oral contraceptives in determining her risk for cardiovascular disease. The patient who is sedentary, is overweight, smokes heavily, is hypertensive, is diabetic, or has hypercholesterolemia is clearly at risk.

  • Hepatocellular adenoma: These benign liver tumors have been associated with the use of oral contraceptives. Although these tumors are histologically benign, their danger lies in the risk of rupture of the capsule of the liver, leading to extensive bleeding and, possibly, death. With the current low-dose oral contraceptive combination, the risk for liver tumors is much lower.


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