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New Birth Control Pills, Same Old Stroke Risk

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Stroke risk in women using any type of birth control pills was double that of nonusers -- about six strokes per 10,000 women per year, compared with only three strokes in women not on the pill.

Twice the risk sounds like a lot, but the risk of a stroke is still not that great because women of child-bearing age are at fairly low risk of stroke in general, Adams says, adding that most earlier studies have come up with similar results.

The few women still using the first-generation pill were 1.7 times more likely to have a stroke than nonusers. Surprisingly, risk of stroke was even higher with the newer pills -- 2.2 times that of non-pill users for the third-generation pill and 2.4 times the risk for the second-generation pill.

Other risk factors for stroke, including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, increased stroke risk in all pill users.

"Additional risk factors for stroke add considerably to the risk imposed by birth control pills," Adams says. "Women with these conditions should consider other forms of birth control, or should reduce stroke risk by other means, like stopping smoking or losing weight."

"Women with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes should work with their doctor to reduce these risks," Algra agrees.

In an earlier study, Algra's group found that relative to second-generation pills, newer forms of the pill increased risk of developing blood clots in deep veins of the legs. If the clots travel to the lungs, they can choke off the blood supply there, causing death.

"Women taking birth control pills for the first time should start with second-generation pills, and if they are using third-generation pills now, they should consider switching to second-generation to avoid blood clots deep in the leg," Algra says.

Because every woman is different in risk factors for stroke and in personal preferences regarding birth control, the experts recommend talking with your doctor about the risks and benefits of different birth control pills or alternative methods of preventing pregnancy.

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