The question of whether or not you are "too old" to use birth control pills is a common one. As females age, studies show a slight decrease in fertility, but not to the point where there is no longer a need for reliable contraception. The fact is, prior to menopause, the risk of unplanned pregnancy exists.
Complicating matters, current data shows conception after the age of 40 is marked with a significant increase in adverse consequences, for both the mother and infant.
In terms of contraception methods, oral birth control pills represent a convenient and effective option. Like all drugs, the risks need to be weighed against the benefits. Below, we have broken down many of the positives and potential negatives/risks of birth control pill use past the age of 35 years old.
- Birth control pills are effective at preventing pregnancy, regardless of age. There are numerous studies that have explored whether or not age is a significant factor in the efficacy of contraception with birth control pills. The results have clearly showed that birth control pills are an effective means in contraception in older women.
- The symptoms of pre-menopause (i.e. perimenopause) can be greatly relieved when using birth control pills. Similar to hormonal menopause relief, the hormones contained in birth control pills can help reduce hot flashes and night sweats. In addition, birth control pills reduce heavy menstrual bleeding and irregular bleeding.
- Combined Oral contraceptives (i.e. COC's) are birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin. Taking a combined oral contraceptive may reduce the risk of certain cancers such as endometrial, ovarian and colon cancer. However, the risk of other cancers, such as breast cancer, may be increased
- One of the biggest risks of birth control pills, regardless of age, are the formation of blood clots, specifically VTE (venous thromboembolism). The risk significantly increases with certain risk factors including in those who smoke or have high blood pressure. Additionally, those aged 35 years old and over have an increased risk of forming these blood blots. Typically, if you are over 35, only healthy individuals with no complicating risk factors should consider using birth control pills. It is important to speak with your doctor regarding your health to evaluate any potential risk factors you may have.
- There is conflicting information regarding how birth control pills influence our risk of fractures and osteoporosis. It is well known that an injectable form of birth control, Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone) can result in a reversible bone loss and osteoporosis. It is less well known if oral contraceptives that contain both estrogen and progestin have a significant effect, if any. The current thought is that birth control pills have a negligible effect on bone mineral density. In fact, some studies have found that combined oral contraceptives may prevent declines in bone mineral density that occurs later in life.
Based on available information, It is both the stance of the WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Center Of Disease Control) that age is NOT a contraindication in the use of birth control pills. The overall consensus is that the use of oral birth control pills are a reasonable option prior to menopause, regardless of age, depending on the health situation of the individual. The decision to stop using (or not starting) birth control pills various significantly on an individual basis and should be the result of taking both the potential positives and negatives into consideration.
As always, it is important to speak with your doctor regarding your specific situation and whether or not you can safely use oral birth control pills.