Older women who’ve used contraceptive pills in the past appear to have less severe heart disease than their peers who did not use these pills, according to a new study.
“These findings suggest that a (forward-looking) study should address the hypothesis that past oral contraceptive use during the premenopausal years might offer women protection from (heart) disease later in life,” Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, from the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues note.
The findings, which appear in the journal Fertility and Sterility, are based on a study of 672 postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE). All of the women were suspected of having some degree of heart disease and underwent “angiography” to look at the coronary blood vessels that feed the heart. Past oral contraceptive use was determined through a reproductive questionnaire.
Past oral contraceptive use was associated with a reduction in heart disease severity, the report indicates. This held true even after accounting for a variety of factors that could influence the association, including age, diabetes, cholesterol levels, smoking, aspirin use, and the use of cholesterol lowering drugs.
The duration of past oral contraceptive use, however, appeared to have no bearing on the extent of reduced coronary disease seen, the report indicates.
“To our knowledge, our findings represent the first observation linking a detailed characterization of past oral contraceptive use with an accurate” assessment of heart disease in postmenopausal women, the authors state.
While the findings suggest a potential protective effect for past oral contraceptive use, they should be interpreted with caution as a study group with suspected heart disease may not be representative of the general population of women, the researchers warn.
SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, May 2006.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD