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Women Over 40 Still Need Effective Contraception

Benefits outweigh risks, author says (Mar. 25)

Women reaching the age of 40 tend to be less vigilant about birth control because they think the risk of pregnancy is low or that birth control can cause health problems — but a review of the evidence has underscored the need to be vigilant about contraception even in perimenopause.

“Despite declining fertility, women over age 40 still require effective contraception if they want to avoid pregnancy,” according to Rebecca H. Allen, MD, MPH, of the Women & Infants’ Hospital of Rhode Island. “In addition, the benefits of birth control outweigh the risk. Even for women with risk factors, there are methods that can be safely used.”

The new research was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Women over 40, Allen explains, need to talk with their primary care provider about which choice of contraception is best for them given their health. Even if they’ve used a specific method in the past, it might be less appropriate now because of other medical conditions.

Contraception should be used until a woman is assured she has gone through menopause, Allen adds. Menopause can be assumed after a woman aged 50 years or older has no menstrual cycle for a year. In addition to helping to prevent pregnancy, women can find relief from some perimenopausal symptoms with the right contraceptive, Allen says.

For example:

  • Estrogen-containing oral contraceptives or the progestin-releasing intrauterine device can help stem the heavy menstrual bleeding that can occur in the perimenopause
  • Estrogen-containing contraceptives can help vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats
  • Estrogen-containing oral contraceptives might prevent declines in bone density, according to one study.
  • Combined oral contraceptives decrease a woman's risk of developing endometrial cancer by 50%, according to the results of two large studies.

Source: Women & Infants’ Hospital; March 25, 2013.

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