Health issues in oral contraception: Risks, side effects and health benefits

Abby L. Spencer, Rachel Bonnema

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Given the valuable contraceptive and noncontraceptive benefits of combined hormonal contraception (estrogen plus progestin), oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) have been widely used by reproductive-aged women for decades. In 2002, OCPs were the leading contraceptive method in the USA among women under 35 years of age, with over 11.6 million women using them. OCPs have evolved since their first use in the early 1960s to improve safety patterns without affecting efficacy. Today, OCPs contain only a fraction of the estrogen doses seen with original formulations, dramatically reducing the cardiovascular risk initially associated with this form of contraception. In addition, women now have many additional options for combined hormonal contraception (CHC), including newer progestins, reduced estrogen doses and extended cycle lengths, and novel delivery systems such as the transdermal patch or intravaginal ring. These options may further affect traditional risk and benefit profiles for CHC use in these women. Therefore, accompanying the evolution of the OCP and other forms of CHC, there may be newer risks, side effects and noncontraceptive benefits associated with their use that providers must consider with their patients when prescribing CHCs. This article will provide a short summary on progestin-only oral contraceptives, but the primary aim of this article is to focus on the risks, side effects and health benefits associated with combined hormonal contraceptives, specifically with the OCP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-557
Number of pages7
JournalExpert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • combined hormonal contraception
  • contraception
  • noncontraceptive benefits
  • oral contraceptive pills
  • progestin-only pills

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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