Women reaching the age of 40 tend to be less vigilant about birth control because they think the risk of pregnancy is low – or that birth control can cause health problems - but a review of the evidence by a team that includes a Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island physician recently underscored the need to be vigilant about contraception even in perimenopause.
"Despite declining fertility, women over age 40 still require effective contraception if they want to avoid pregnancy," according to Rebecca H. Allen, MD, MPH, of Women & Infants' Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Division of Research. "In addition, the benefits of birth control outweigh the risk. Even for women with risk factors, there are methods that can be safely used."
The research, entitled "Contraception in women over 40 years of age," was published recently in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). The goal is to educate women and help physicians find the best methods of contraception for their patients.
Women over 40, Dr. Allen explains, need to talk with their primary care provider about which choice of contraception is best for them given their health. Even if they've used a specific method in the past, it might be less appropriate now because of other medical conditions.
Contraception should be used until a woman is assured she has gone through menopause, she adds. Menopause can be assumed after a woman age 50 or older has no menstrual cycle for a year.
In addition to helping to prevent pregnancy, women can find relief from some perimenopausal symptoms with the right contraceptive. This includes:
- Estrogen-containing oral contraceptives or the progestin-releasing intrauterine device for help stemming the heavy menstrual bleeding that can occur in the perimenopause
- Estrogen-containing contraceptives can help vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats
- Estrogen-containing oral contraceptives might possibly prevent declines in bone density, according to one study
- Combined oral contraceptives decrease a woman's risk of developing endometrial cancer by 50%, according to the results of two large studies
Women needing a primary care provider or gynecologist can call the Women & Infants Physician Referral Line at 1-800-921-9299.
About Women & Infants Hospital
Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation's leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. The primary teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women's medicine, Women & Infants is the ninth largest stand-alone obstetrical service in the country with nearly 8,400 deliveries per year. In 2009, Women & Infants opened the country's largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.
New England's premier hospital for women and newborns, Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation's only mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation's only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.
Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Center of Excellence from the American College of Radiology; a Center for In Vitro Maturation Excellence by SAGE In Vitro Fertilization; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health; and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute's Gynecologic Oncology Group and the National Institutes of Health's Pelvic Floor Disorders Network.