#WorldHeartDay: On oral contraceptive pills? You could be at risk of heart disease

Dr Brajesh Kumar Kunwar, a Senior Interventional Cardiologist, and Dr Bandita Sinha, a Senior Gynaecologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, share their insight on how oral contraceptive pills can raise the risk on one’s heart

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The use of Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) or other types of birth control measures that have hormones, in young and healthy women is a comfortable and safe method to prevent pregnancy.

There are some women, though, who may be at risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. All pregnancy control measures should be prescribed by a physician; this way, you can discuss the pros and cons. Avoid self-prescription. The theme for World Heart Day is My Heart, Your Heart; let’s understand, how oral contraceptive pills can raise heart risk.

How can oral contraceptive pills raise heart risk?

Doctors call these pills a hormonal birth control measure. As the name suggests, hormones, including Estrogen and Progestin, are components of the pill.

These hormones are also present in other forms of pregnancy control measures, such as injections, Intrauterine Devices (IUDs), the patch, a device implanted under the skin called Nexplanon, and the Vaginal Ring.

Studies show the hormones, in these forms of birth control measures, can affect your Heart; they may raise your Blood Pressure, for instance. So, if you take birth control pills, get your blood pressure tested every six months to ensure it stays in a healthy range.

If you already have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor and see if there is another safe way to prevent pregnancy, that would suit you.

Women who consume certain birth control pills may see a change in some of their blood fats that play a role in heart disease. For example, your levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol could go down; at the same time, Triglycerides and LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol may go up.

It may be the reason for the gradual build-up of a fatty substance called plaque in your arteries. Over time, it can reduce or block the flow of blood to your heart and cause a heart attack or angina (a type of chest pain). Estrogen, in birth control pills, can also increase the risk of blood clots!

When on OCP, risk of heart disease and other complications is higher if you:

  • Are older than 35 years
  • Have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol
  • Smoke
  • Have ever had a stroke, heart attack, or blood clots
  • Suffer from migraines with aura

How to lower your risk of heart disease when on OCP?

If you fall under any of the categories listed above, you may still be able to use birth control. The important thing you can do is to discuss your concerns with the doctor. They will help you weigh the pros and cons, against each birth control option, that is offered to you.

If you’re over 35, healthy, and don’t smoke, you can keep using hormonal birth control measure. However, you shouldn’t use birth control with estrogen if you have ever had blood clots, stroke, or heart disease.

Instead, speak with your doctor about pregnancy control methods, that only have Progestin. These include shots, a type of birth control pill called the mini pill or POP, Nexplanon, and IUDs.

No matter your age, if you use birth control pills, you are at risk and should, therefore, make well-informed decisions after speaking to your doctor.