Stroke: Risk factors could include oral contraceptives, study warns


A stroke is an injury that follows a sudden obstruction of blood flow to the brain, causing an attack of symptoms such as numbness and confusion. Blood flow to the brain can be disrupted for a number of reasons, but drugs have rarely been found to be the cause. According to new findings, one pill taken by millions of women may increase the risk of a brain attack.

The new findings, published in the medical journal Stroke, have suggested the use of oral contraceptives and hormone therapy may increase the risk of stroke.

The Pill – taken by about 3.1 million women in the UK – is one of the most popular methods of contraception around the world.

Scientists made the discovery during a population-based cohort study of more than 250,000 women assessed from 2006 to 2010.

Within this sample, 81 percent of women reported using oral contraceptives and 37 percent reported using hormone therapy.

READ MORE: Stroke: The Health Problem That Is a Risk Factor

A total of 3,007 CVA diagnoses were found, of which 578 were classified as ischemic, while 177 were attributed to an intracerebral hemorrhage.

The findings showed that the incidence of strokes increased in the first year of oral contraceptive use.

Therese Johansson, a PhD student in the department of immunology, genetics and pathology at the Center for Women’s Mental Health during the reproductive lifespan at Uppsala University, Sweden, discussed the findings with the health platform Healio.

She said: “Women should be aware of the side effects [of oral contraceptive and hormone therapy] to make an informed decision when it comes to exogenous hormones.”

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Several mechanisms have previously been proposed to explain the association between oral contraception and the increased risk of stroke.

In 2018, a report in Science Daily stated that oral contraceptives increased blood pressure, making the blood hypercoagulable — or more likely to clot.

It has previously been shown that even low doses of oral contraceptives can increase the risk of cerebral venous thrombosis.

These findings suggest that some caution should be exercised when using oral contraceptives.

Johansson added: “Women should consult with their healthcare provider or midwife to discuss which type of contraceptive method is right for them.

READ MORE: Stroke: The Undiagnosed Risk Factors Found in the Majority of Patients

“If they have additional risk factors, such as smoking, a high BMI or genetic predisposition to thrombosis, they should consider an option other than estrogen-containing oral pills.

“I don’t think women should stop using oral contraceptives.

“But if they are new users, they should consider which method is best for them based on their individual risk factors.”

How to prevent a stroke?

For the majority of people, personal lifestyle will largely determine whether a stroke is on the horizon.

“The best way to prevent stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and not smoke and drink too much alcohol,” says the NHS.

These lifestyle measures work by reducing the risk of blockage from fatty substances in the arteries, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The American Health Association also recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, to reduce your risk of stroke.

Other evidence supports consumption of white-fleshed fruits such as apples and pears to reduce the risk of stroke.

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