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Women's Health

Are Birth Control Pills Safe for My Age?

03/01/2010

Question:

I am a 43 yr old woman with a family history of heart disease and in good general health. I felt like I was having perimenopausal symptoms (spotting between periods, irritability, night sweats), so I asked my gynecologist to prescribe birth control pills. I took them for 2 months and was still having spotting, so he changed my script.

How safe is the pill in a woman my age and how long should I stay on them? I have noticed my mood and night sweats have improved, but my breasts are more tender/sore. I am concerned about the risk for heart disease as well as breast cancer.

Thank you for your information.

Answer:

In general we consider that the use of oral contraceptives is safe for women up until menopause as long as the woman is not smoking, has normal blood pressure and no underlying significant medical issues. The research studies regarding breast cancer indicate that oral contraceptives do not seem to increase the lifetime chance of getting breast cancer. However, women who are currently on oral contraceptives have breast cancer diagnosed more often. This may be because they have more frequent exams or because the cancer is already there and the pills make it grow faster. Breast tenderness is a normal side effect of pills. Some studies show that there is a slightly higher risk of heart attack in women using pills as they age. The risk of having a heart attack for a reproductive age woman over 35 years of age is about 10 per 10,000 women; it may increase to 40 per 10,000 in women using oral contraceptives in this age range. Hypertension and smoking add significant more risk than pills.

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Response by:

Lisa M Keder, MD, MPH Lisa M Keder, MD, MPH
Clinical Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University