Raised Cholesterol Levels from Using the Pill

February 2, 2011

Nearly 28 percent of the 62 million women of childbearing age in the United States use birth control pills, with those under the age of thirty most often choosing the pill for convenience and its high success rate in pregnancy prevention. Oral contraceptives can have many different side effects-most of those will vary considerably depending upon the woman's age and overall health when taking the pill. While the birth control pill's effect on cholesterol levels in most women is not significant enough to cause them to stop taking the pill, women who already have high levels of cholesterol might need to be more careful. If high cholesterol is a major health concern for you, you should probably choose an entirely different method of birth control and stay away from the pill.

Factors Leading To High Cholesterol

While cholesterol levels can be elevated from eating lots of foods high in fat such as ice cream, cheese and meat, you can also inherit the genetic tendency toward high cholesterol levels from your parents. Other factors contribute to elevated cholesterol levels, such as the regular use of the birth control pill. The overall effect on your cholesterol levels from taking birth control pills is largely dependent on the type of pill you take as well as the specific concentration of estrogen and progestin it contains. The estrogen in birth control pills can actually elevate the "good" cholesterol levels in your body, also known as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. Estrogen can also decrease the "bad" cholesterol in your body, known as LDL or low-density lipoprotein, and, in fact, has been shown to have a slightly beneficial overall effect on your blood lipid levels. The progestin in birth control pills has the opposite effect on your cholesterol levels and high levels of triglycerides-a type of fat-can increase your risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when cholesterol builds up on the inside of your artery walls, causing constriction of blood flow and increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Problems With Birth Control Pills

If you already suffer from high cholesterol levels, birth control pills with a larger concentration of progestin may not be a good idea for your overall health, and your doctor may want to prescribe the oral contraceptive which is the least likely to affect your overall cholesterol levels. Progestins raise LDL levels and lower HDL levels as well as triglycerides. Overall, those oral contraceptives which contain only progestins are much more likely to have a negative effect on your cholesterol levels than combination pills which contain progesterone and synthetic estrogen. The positive effects of estrogen will often overcome the negative effects, therefore combination oral contraceptives can have a positive effect on HDL and LDL. Generally speaking, those women whose LDL cholesterol is over 160 mg/dL should probably find another method of birth control, as should those women with a family history of premature heart disease of HDL levels less than 35 mg/dL or triglyceride levels greater than 250 mg/dL. Women who currently take the pill should have their cholesterol levels measured, then should have them tested at regular intervals while on the pill to ensure cholesterol levels are not rising. It's a good idea to talk to your doctor regarding cholesterol issues if you are on the pill or are contemplating going on the pill as a means of birth control.

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