- Birth control pills may increase the risk of ischemic stroke.
- Healthy women without any stroke risk factors are not affected by oral contraceptives.
- Women should be screened thoroughly before being prescribed with contraceptive pills.
Birth control pills increase the risk of ischemic stroke, finds a study conducted by Loyola Medicine stroke specialists. The risk is very small among women who do not have other stroke risk factors. The findings of the study are published in the journal MedLink Neurology
According to neurologists Sarkis Morales-Vidal, MD, and José Biller, MD, the contraceptive pills do not cause hemorrhagic strokes, which is the most common type of stroke caused by blood clots in the brain.
‘Birth control pills increase the risk of causing ischemic stroke among young women’
Oral contraceptives cause a stroke by raising blood pressure and by making blood hypercoagulable (the blood gets clotted easily resulting in thrombosis).
While prescribing the hormonal contraceptives, doctors should consider the type and dose of estrogen or progestin and the mode of administration (such as patch or pill). "The ideal drug is one with the lowest estrogen and progestin doses that will be effective in preventing pregnancy while minimizing adverse effects," Drs. Morales and Biller wrote.
The stroke risk associated with birth pills is very small among healthy young women without any stroke risk factors.
"However, in women with other stroke risk factors, the risk seems higher and, in most cases, oral contraceptive use should be discouraged," Drs. Morales and Biller wrote. The other risk factors related to stroke are high blood pressure, cigarette smoking and migraine headaches that are caused by sensory disturbances called the aura.
Previous studies have shown that most of the women with stroke risk factors were not screened properly before being prescribed with oral contraceptives. Among those who were screened, only 15% of them were advised to not consume birth pills and only 36% of them remembered to stop the medication. About 15% of them were still consuming it even after being told to discontinue.
Drs. Morales and Biller highlighted that, this study mainly indicates the need to improve physician counseling and patient compliance.
About Ischemic Stroke
Ischemic stroke occurs as a result of an obstruction in the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. The condition usually occurs due to fatty deposits in the arteries. These deposits can cause two types of obstruction cerebral thrombosis and cerebral embolism. The common symptoms of stroke are sudden numbness of face, arms and legs, loss of balance, severe headache and dizziness. The condition can be treated by medication and by removing the clot surgically.