Relationship Between Birth Control Pills and Blood Pressure

Birth Control Pills Contain Hormones That Can Raise Blood Pressure

Mid section view of a woman holding a blister pack of contraceptive pills
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For millions of women, oral contraceptive pills are an effective way to avoid pregnancy, moderate irregular periods, or address other health concerns, such as acne. While oral contraceptives are a safe, effective medicine, it is important to understand that they may affect your blood pressure health.

Birth Control Pills Contain Hormones

The most commonly prescribed birth controls pills contain a synthetic mixture of estrogen and another hormone called progesterone.

In addition, there is a form of birth control called the “mini-pill” which only contains progesterone. These hormones are necessary for the contraceptive action of the birth control pill, but carry some risks.

Progesterone Can Increase Blood Pressure

Progesterone is a hormone that can affect blood pressure. The mechanism by which this occurs is complicated, but involves both hormone cascades and direct effect on small blood vessels. Because of these effects, it is possible that taking birth control pills can cause your blood pressure to rise. This increase in blood pressure can range from very mild to potentially serious, and may sometimes warrant discontinuing the birth control.

Things That Increase Your Risk

While the absolute risk of developing high blood pressure while taking birth control pills has not been established, there are several other factors that may indicate a woman is more likely to experience this complication.

These factors include

  • A family history of high blood pressure, especially in female relatives
  • A personal history of high blood pressure during prior pregnancy
  • Any personal history of heart problems
  • Any personal history of blood vessel problems

What Is Secondary Hypertension?

There are two different types of high blood pressure or hypertension: primary (essential) hypertension and secondary hypertension.

Most adults with hypertension have primary hypertension. The exact causes of primary hypertension are unknown. However, certain factors, such as obesity, insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), salt intake (in salt-sensitive individuals) and stress, can raise blood pressure in people with primary hypertension.

Secondary hypertension is quicker onset and can be caused by various factors including oral contraceptive pills.

Before & During Birth Control Pill Use

Before beginning birth control pill your doctor will check your blood pressure. If you do not have a long history with your current physician, he will likely make several checks of your blood pressure over a period of time. This is normal and serves to establish a baseline. During treatment, your blood pressure should be monitored regularly, usually during your annual exam, but more frequently if any increase is detected.

What If My Blood Pressure Goes Up?

If your blood pressure rises while you’re using the pill, this does not necessarily mean that you must stop taking the pill. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure very carefully, and will provide advice and recommendations based on your circumstances. Some possibilities may include

  • Continuing as normal
  • Changing to a different pill with lower levels of progesterone
  • Trying a different method of birth control

In some cases, it may be necessary to cease taking oral contraceptive pills. Your doctor will advise you if this is the case, and you should feel free to ask about alternative methods at any time.

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