New oral contraceptives increase the risk of strokes and other types of blood clots in patients with migrianes with aura

Newer oral contraceptives increase the risk of strokes and other types of blood clots in patients with migraines with aura, according to a study to be presented at the next meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego in March. We have known for many years that estrogen-based oral contraceptives increase the risk of strokes in women who suffer from migraines with aura. However, most of the studies were done looking at the old contraceptives which contain a relatively high amount of estrogen (such as Ortho-Novum 1/50, Ovral, Ogestrel, and other). It was logical to assume that the newer contraceptives (such as Yaz, Yasmin, Loestrin, and other) with lower amounts of estrogen would be safer. Most headache specialists, myself included, were not as adamant about avoiding the newer low-dose estrogen contraceptives in our patients who had migraine auras. I would always discuss the risk of strokes and other blood clots with my patients and would always suggest using other modes of contraception, but if other methods were not acceptable to the woman or if the contraceptive had other benefits (helped PMS, acne, regulated periods, reduced bleeding, etc) I would not make a big fuss. This new study will make me more insistent on stopping the pill because the risk appears to be even higher with the newer contraceptives than with the old ones. Even the vaginal ring (NuvaRing), which I mentioned in a recent post as a good option to reduce menstrual migraines, carries a higher risk than the old oral contraceptives. The ring has a low dose of estrogen, but it is speculated that the risk is further increased because estrogen is released continuously (with the pill estrogen goes in and out of the body daily). The same may apply to estrogen patches, such as Ortho Evra. The study looked at over 145 thousand women, which makes its conclusions fairly reliable. Another surprising finding of this study is that the risk of blood clots in legs (deep vein thrombosis) was very high – 7.6% in women with migraine with aura and 6.3% in those without aura taking contraceptives.
The bottom line, if you suffer from migraines with aura do not take estrogen-based contraceptives, whether in a pill, patch, or ring, unless you and your doctor decide that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Ortho Evra

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