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Midlife Women May Be Missing Out on Pill's Benefits


WebMD Health News

Aug. 30, 2000 -- Women often take oral contraceptives in their youth to prevent pregnancy or to regulate their periods, but many of the more than 20 million U.S. women aged 35 to 44 are unaware that they can still get important health benefits from taking low-dose birth control pills, according to a recent poll.

Misperceptions about oral contraceptives among women in this age group abound. And because of that, women may be missing an opportunity to add quality years to their lives by taking birth control pills during the 'transitional' years in which they are moving toward menopause.

During the time preceding menopause (called premenopause), the ovaries function less consistently, and women experience changes in their reproductive systems that can lead to heavier menstrual periods, night sweats, hot flashes, and changes in their skin. But taking birth control pills may make this transition easier while delaying or preventing the development of certain health problems, including osteoporosis and some types of cancer.

"Low-dose pills are specifically designed for women older than 35, and they can take them until menopause to ease transition into menopause," says Donnica L. Moore, MD, president of the Sapphire Women's Health Group in Neshanic Station, N.J.

But the national poll of 3,200 midlife women found that the majority have not discussed their reproductive health concerns with their doctors and that many have been misinformed about the benefits and risks of taking oral contraceptives, says Moore, who discussed the results at a press conference in New York. The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive Inc., by phone and online.

For example, more than half of all pregnancies in the transitional age group are unintended, and 79% of the women ages 35 to 44 who were polled said they were not concerned about unplanned pregnancy. Only 30% of women in this age group use contraception, the survey found.

Yet "the issue of unintended and unwanted pregnancy in transitional women is nearly as high as it is among teenagers," Moore says.

Most women in this age group are concerned with developing life-threatening diseases, including breast cancer, heart disease, the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, and ovarian or uterine cancer, the survey showed.

Still, eight in 10 women don't know that the pill can help prevent ovarian and uterine cancer. One study, the Cancer and Steroid Hormone study, found a decreased risk for ovarian cancer in women who had taken birth control pills for as little as three to six months. In addition, oral contraceptives have been found to lower the risk of colon cancer and reduce a woman's risk of developing osteoporosis by strengthening bones. The data on how they may affect a woman's risk of breast cancer are inconclusive.

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