Oral Contraceptives and Endometriosis

The Past Use of Oral Contraceptives for Treating Severe Primary Dysmenorrhea Is Associated With Endometriosis, Especially Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis

Charles Chapron; Carlos Souza; Bruno Borghese; Marie-Christine Lafay-Pillet; Pietro Santulli; Gérard Bijaoui; François Goffinet; Dominique de Ziegler


Hum Reprod. 2011;26(8):2028-2035. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: The relationship between the use of oral contraception (OC) and endometriosis remains controversial. We therefore compared various characteristics of OC use and the surgical diagnosis of endometriosis histologically graded as superficial peritoneal endometriosis (SUP), ovarian endometrioma (OMA) or deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE).
Methods: This cross-sectional study included 566 patients without visible endometriosis at surgery as controls, and 410 patients with histologically proven endometriosis, categorized by their worst lesions as SUP n = 47, OMA n = 120 and DIE n = 243. Personal data, including on OC use, were prospectively collected during standardized interviews. Statistical analysis was performed using unconditional logistic regression.
Results: Past OC users had an increased incidence of endometriosis (adjusted odd ratios (OR) = 2.79, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.74–5.12, P = 0.002) of any revised American Fertility Society stage. Women who had previously used OC for severe primary dysmenorrhea were even more frequently diagnosed with endometriosis (adjusted OR = 5.6, 95% CI 3.2–9.8), especially for DIE (adjusted OR = 16.2, 95% CI 7.8–35.3). Women who had previously used OC for other reasons also had an increased risk of endometriosis, but to a lesser extent (adjusted OR = 2.6, 95% CI 1.8–4.1). The age at which OC was initiated, duration of OC use and free interval from last OC use were not significantly different between control and endometriosis women, irrespective of histological grading. Current OC users did not show an increased prevalence of endometriosis (OR = 1.22, 95% CI 0.6–2.52).
Conclusions: Our data indicate that a history of OC use for severe primary dysmenorrhea is associated with surgical diagnosis of endometriosis, especially DIE, later in life. However, this does not necessarily mean that use of OC increases the risk of developing endometriosis. Past use of OC for primary dysmenorrhea may serve as a marker for women with endometriosis and DIE.


Endometriosis, histologically defined as functional endometrial glands and stroma developing outside of the uterine cavity (Sampson, 1927), is an enigmatic disease (Borghese et al., 2008; Bulun, 2009; Ngo et al., 2009) responsible for pelvic pain (Fauconnier and Chapron, 2005) and infertility (Matzuk and Lamb, 2008; de Ziegler et al., 2010). Public health wise, endometriosis is the source of an important economic burden (Gao et al., 2006). A common early clinical symptom of endometriosis is an enduring history of dysmenorrhea, which is often primary and severe (Momoeda et al., 2002).

Oral contraception (OC) is the treatment commonly offered to young women suffering from dysmenorrhea that is not adequately alleviated by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (Milsom et al., 1990; Harel, 2008). Suppressing ovarian function with OC improves the symptoms of dysmenorrhea (Group, 2005), but these classically recur upon stopping (Harada et al., 2008). Practically therefore, OC is often continued for several years (ACOG, 2005), as it has been shown to effectively prevent recurrence (Vercellini et al., 2008, 2010).

Not unexpectedly, the possibility of a link between OC use and endometriosis is a debated one (Hemmings et al., 2004; Missmer et al., 2004; Vercellini et al., 2011). In a case–control study, Parazzini et al., (1994) reported that using OC increases the risk of endometriosis. Conversely, other researchers observed, in a large cohort study, a lower risk of endometriosis amongst OC users (Vessey et al., 1993). Finally, still other studies failed to find any association between use of OC pills and endometriosis (Darrow et al., 1993; Heilier et al., 2007). We see two possible causes for these contradictory findings: (i) early reports (Darrow et al., 1993; Vessey et al., 1993; Calhaz-Jorge et al., 2004; Heilier et al., 2007) failed to mention for which indication OC was prescribed (Somigliana et al., 2011): treating severe primary dysmenorrhea, bleeding disorders, secondary dysmenorrhea and/or pelvic pain or simply for contraception; and (ii) in most prior studies, endometriosis was not histologically staged (Vessey et al., 1993; Parazzini et al., 1994; Hemmings et al., 2004).

Realizing that the link between endometriosis and OC use is still unclear, we undertook to reassess this issue while accounting for the two likely sources of confusion, the indication of OC and the histological staging of endometriosis. In the present study, we therefore determined whether OC has been used for treating severe primary dysmenorrhea or other reasons as well as other parameters pertinent to OC use. Moreover, endometriosis was histologically categorized as (i) superficial peritoneal endometriosis (SUP), (ii) ovarian endometrioma (OMA) or (iii) deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE).


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