Because hormonal birth control is so common, you may not even think of side effects. But anytime you have excess hormones in your body for an extended period of time — no matter what the need — they can be detrimental to your health.
In fact, hormonal birth control could be linked to certain types of heart conditions.
At the Vein, Heart, and Vascular Institute, our goal is to keep you and your heart as healthy as possible by making smart lifestyle choices. Our team is led by Dr. Hesham Fakhri, who specializes in all aspects of cardiovascular care.
What’s in hormonal birth control?
You may need hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy or for certain medical conditions, including menopause symptoms. Birth control can even out your hormones as your body transitions through perimenopause to menopause.
So what’s in the pills?
Hormonal birth control usually contains estrogen or progestin, and sometimes it contains both. These hormones are naturally occurring in your body. By adding extra, you’re either making up for a deficiency or you're creating an environment where your body can’t sustain a pregnancy.
There are many different types of hormonal birth control, including the pill. Some of the other options include:
- Vaginal ring
You may also choose to use other forms of birth control that don’t contain any hormones, such as a condom, a diaphragm, or certain IUDs. But sometimes those aren’t an option.
If you’re at risk for heart disease, you should understand the risks hormonal birth control may have on your health.
Heart problems that stem from birth control
Normally, the hormones in birth control that are naturally occurring in your body don’t cause problems. But when you take extra of these hormones for an extended period of time, they can have side effects, some of which could affect your heart.
For example, you’re more prone to heart problems on birth control if you:
- Are over 35
- Have high blood pressure
- Are diabetic
- Have had a heart attack
You’re also at a higher risk if you’ve ever had a stroke or have had blood clots. High cholesterol may pose a risk, too, if you’re taking hormonal birth control.
So how does birth control affect your heart? It actually can cause many different problems, especially if you have any of the above risk factors. For example, the hormones in birth control may raise your blood pressure, so keeping tabs on your blood pressure is essential in preventing problems.
Hormonal birth control also can affect your cholesterol, which may lead to an accumulation of a harmful substance called plaque in your arteries. This plaque narrows your arteries and may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Birth control also increases your risk of blood clots, so you need to understand the risks and discuss your options with Dr. Fakhri if you already have a predisposition to heart problems.
How you can prevent problems
First, discuss the use of hormonal birth control with a doctor. If you’re prone to problems like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, other non-hormonal options may be a better choice for birth control.
See either Dr. Fakhri or your primary physician every six months or so to keep an eye on your overall health, especially if you have certain conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
To prevent heart problems related to birth control, don’t smoke or quit if you are a smoker. Smoking greatly increases your risk of heart problems, and with hormonal birth control added in, you’re at an even greater risk.
If you do have preexisting conditions that put you at a higher risk for heart issues, you still can take hormonal birth control, as long as your conditions are well-controlled. But if you’ve ever been diagnosed with blood clots or heart disease, steer clear of birth control containing estrogen, and stick to progestin-only options.
If you’re on hormonal birth control and are worried about heart problems, contact one of our two conveniently located offices in Wesley Chapel or Tampa, Florida, to make an appointment.