MAR 05, 2018 11:19 AM PST

Taking Birth Control Pills Increases Risk of Stroke

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Oral contraceptives, i.e. birth control pills, increase the risk of stroke for women, most significantly for women who also have other stroke risk factors. Scientists examining this connection want to increase awareness so that women taking or thinking about taking birth control understand the potential consequences.

The CDC estimates that 62 percent of women of reproductive age use contraception, with over 10 million taking the pill.

First, researchers stress that the increased risk of stroke from birth control pills is minimal for women who don’t also have other risk factors for stroke. Additionally, the increased risk of stroke associated with birth control is for ischemic stroke, as opposed to hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic stroke, which is responsible for a large majority (87 percent) of all stroke cases, takes place when a blood vessel that supplies the brain with blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients, is blocked due to a blood clot. Hemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, is the result of a ruptured blood vessel, as in an aneurysm. A third type of stroke is less severe, called a “transient ischemic attack” (TIA). These “mini-strokes” are caused by a temporary blood clot.

Why does taking birth control pills increase the risk of ischemic stroke? Researchers say that it increases an individual’s blood pressure and enhances the likelihood that blood will clot. Physicians can minimize the risk of stroke for women taking birth control pills by carefully considering the type and dose of estrogen and progestin in the medications they prescribe as well as the route of administration, which can vary from pill to patch.

"The ideal drug is one with the lowest estrogen and progestin doses that will be effective in preventing pregnancy while minimizing adverse effects," explained Sarkis Morales-Vidal, MD, and Jose Biller, MD.

They add that for women with risk factors for stroke, like high blood pressure, smoking habits, and migraine headaches, “oral contraceptive use should be discouraged.”

The connection between migraines and risk of stroke is still not very well understood. Scientists do know that a specific type of migraine is the focus, those with sensory disturbances or “aura,” where the afflicted person experiences flashes of light and tingling in the hands and face. A 2009 review of studies on migraine and stroke risk showed that the relative risk of stroke was much higher in people with migraines compared to people without migraines.

Researchers from the study hope that the new information could help inform women whose doctors do not tell them about their risk of stroke. Researchers say that only 15 percent of women with at least one risk factor for stroke are told by a medical professional to not begin taking birth control, and only 36 percent of at-risk women already taking birth control are told to stop.

In the words of Morales and Biller, “these findings highlight the need to improve physician counseling and patient compliance.”

The present study was published in the journal MedLink Neurology.

Sources: American Stroke Association, The Migraine Trust, Loyola University Health System

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
JUN 30, 2019
Cardiology
JUN 30, 2019
Opioid Addiction Comes With Increased Risk Of Infection
Public health officials have put decades of work into the battle against infectious diseases. Now, this progress is at risk of being dismantled. A recent s...
SEP 04, 2019
Health & Medicine
SEP 04, 2019
Are You Getting Enough Heart-Healthy Sleep?
Is there a sleep duration sweet spot to decrease your risk of heart attacks? According to researchers from the University of Colorado: Boulder, there is! T...
OCT 18, 2019
Cardiology
OCT 18, 2019
Find the Motivation to Exercise with Imagery
Those involved in professional sports have a lot on their plate. From fitting in intense regular workouts to getting adequate sleep, to eating a healthy di...
OCT 24, 2019
Cardiology
OCT 24, 2019
Protein Build-Up Places Heart at Risk
Amyloidosis is a disease caused by protein buildup in the body. These abnormal proteins, called amyloids, are produced in the bone marrow. Multiple types o...
OCT 28, 2019
Health & Medicine
OCT 28, 2019
An Avocado a Day for Heart Health
There’s more great news for avocado lovers! The beloved tree fruit has undoubtedly skyrocketed in popularity over the last few decades thanks to a mu...
DEC 03, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
DEC 03, 2019
Cannabis Dependence Poses Danger for Post-op Heart Attacks
People undergoing common surgeries are immediately at an increased risk for post-op heart attack and potentially stroke if they have any link to cannabis d...
Loading Comments...