Scientists say oral contraceptives do not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and taking the pill longer may benefit heart health.
In a cohort study published on August 10 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, scientists examined the associations between oral contraceptive use and cardiovascular disease in 161,017 women from the U.K. Biobank study.
At the study's onset, the participants completed a questionnaire asking whether they used oral contraceptives between 2006 and 2010. Moreover, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease.
The researchers divided the women into two groups, those who reported using oral contraceptives and those who never took the pill. They also measured the participants' total cholesterol level, glycated hemoglobin, and C‐reactive protein and adjusted for lifestyle factors, such as smoking status and physical activity levels.
After following the participants until 2020, the team found that oral contraceptive use did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease events. What's more, oral contraceptives may be cardioprotective, as women who took the pill had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and death from all causes.
Specifically, participants who used oral contraceptives had a 9% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8% to 13% lower risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
Moreover, using oral contraceptives for a longer duration appeared to provide more cardioprotective benefits than short-term use.
Still, the scientists found no significant associations between oral contraceptive use and cardiovascular disease death, myocardial infarction, or stroke.
Although the study used a large number of participants, most were white. So, it's unknown if the results would be the same for other populations. Also, the scientists did not have information about the oral contraceptive's formulations or dosages. Therefore, it’s unclear whether specific birth control pills could have more heart benefits than others.
Still, the study authors wrote, "These findings provide significant public health insights and may facilitate a shift in public perception because oral contraceptive use is common in women of reproductive age, and previously negative publicity exists about the safety of oral contraceptive use."
They suggest that larger-scale prospective studies are needed to determine if various birth control pill formulations or dosages affect cardiovascular disease outcomes differently.
- Journal of the American Heart Association. Associations of Oral Contraceptive Use With Cardiovascular Disease and All‐Cause Death: Evidence From the UK Biobank Cohort Study.