Birth Control Pills and Stroke

Birth Control Pills and Stroke

Oral contraceptives have been around for years and have given women substantial reproductive freedom. In addition to functioning as birth control, oral contraceptives may also be prescribed for management of certain medical conditions.

Overall, they are considered safe, and newer formulations are even safer and easier to use than in the past.

But, there is an elevated risk of blood clots with the use of oral contraceptives.

Many women wonder how significant those risks are and if the risk of stroke while using oral contraceptives is enough reason to avoid them.

Hundreds of thousands of women have used oral contraceptives over the years, so there is enough data to provide real answers to questions about an association between oral contraceptives and stroke.

Oral Contraceptives and Stroke Risk

Overall, women who take oral contraceptives have approximately a 50%-100% higher risk of stroke compared to women who do not use them. While this number sounds somewhat alarming, it does not actually represent a high number of strokes. That is because the vast majority of young women do not normally experience strokes or have any kind of blood clot, so a 50-100% higher risk is still quite low.

Most women who use oral contraceptives are under the age of 35-40, as women over that age generally rely on more permanent means of birth control.

So, with a population of relatively young women taking oral contraceptives, strokes associated with oral contraceptive use are quite rare, even with the relative increase in stroke risk associated with them.

Different Oral Contraceptive Formulations and Stroke Risk

Studies that show an increased risk of stroke associated with oral contraceptives consistently note that those with a higher dose of estrogen are the ones most strongly associated with stroke.

Authors of one of the largest research studies on the subject recommended using oral contraceptives formulated with less than 50ug estrogen to prevent stroke.  

Most significantly, women with certain health conditions constitute the vast majority of women who experience strokes related to use of oral contraceptives.

Which Health Conditions Are Associated With Birth Control Pill Linked Stroke?

Women who are smokers or who have already been diagnosed with blood-clotting disorders are the most likely experience a stroke while taking oral contraceptives. Some other conditions associated with a higher tendency to blood clots and strokes while taking oral contraceptives include polycyclic ovary syndrome and hypertension. 

Several research studies suggest that women who suffer from migraine with aura are also more inclined to an elevated chance of stroke when taking birth control pills, although this link is not as definitive as that seen with the medical conditions listed above. Migraine with aura is a type of migraine headache accompanied by neurological symptoms such as vision loss, tingling or weakness.

Is It Safe for Teenagers To Use Birth Control Pills?

Overall, teenagers are not at higher risk of birth control pill related stroke than women who are in their 20's or 30's.

This means that, while there is a slight risk of having stroke while using birth control pills, the likelihood of becoming pregnant if you are sexually active and not using birth control far outweighs the risk of having a stroke with birth control pills.

Stroke safety is an especially important question for young women who are making a decision about whether to use oral contraceptives, because young women may be less likely to recognize the symptoms of a stroke or a TIA.

Studies show that teenagers are often unaware of the risk of stroke or of the side effects of birth control pills. If you are a teenager taking birth control polls, you should learn how to recognize the symptoms of a stroke, and you should stay responsible by protecting yourself and taking care of your health if you are sexually active.

A Word From Verywell

Hormonal therapy and hormonal contraception can be important in managing illness and in reproductive planning. Overall, hormonal medications are considered very safe. However, as with most medications, they may produce side effects or medical complications, including the risk of stroke. For example, estrogen therapy is linked with lower stroke risk in some instances and higher stroke risk in other instances.

The best way to optimize your health is to take medications that are beneficial for your overall quality of life, and to learn how to recognize complications so that any complications can be managed in a timely manner.

Further Reading:

Analysis of Risk Factors of Stroke and Venous Thromboembolism in Females With Oral Contraceptives Use, Dulicek P, Ivanova E, Kostal M, Sadilek P, Beranek M, Zak P, Hirmerova J, Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2017 Jan

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