Are Women Over 35 Too Old for Birth Control Pills?
Along with aging comes a slew of health concerns.
Am I getting enough calcium and vitamin D to keep my bones intact?
What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
Should I start thinking about taking a “baby aspirin” once a day?
Women may have even more concerns as they get older, especially regarding their reproductive health. Many women wonder whether they should continue to take birth control pills or if they should stop at a certain age.
We can’t address all your health concerns in this post, but we can certainly help you answer the question about whether women over a certain age should stop taking birth control pills. Let’s jump in!
Why do women take birth control pills? (Hint: There’s more than one reason.)
Birth control pills are a common form of contraception, of course. But that’s not the only reason doctors prescribe them.
Many women take birth control pills to better manage their periods. Birth control pills can be useful for women who have:
- Irregular, unpredictable periods
- Heavy, painful flows due to endometriosis
- Uncomfortable menstrual symptoms, like migraines and cramps
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
There could be several explanations as to why you may need to take birth control pills long-term, even up until menopause.
What are the risks of birth control as women get older?
Many of the short-term risks of birth control pills in women older than 35 are the same as the risks in women under 35. Examples include side effects like nausea, vomiting, weight gain, decreased libido, and breast tenderness.
However, some risks do become elevated with long-term use of birth control.
- Cancer risk. The risk of cervical and breast cancers are slightly higher in women who use birth control pills (though the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers are lower). We can’t yet say whether birth control pills are the definite cause of any increased or decreased risk of cancers until scientists perform stronger studies.
- Blood clots/Heart attacks. After age 35, the risk of blood clots or heart attack increases. High blood pressure, smoking, and history of heart disease or diabetes all increase these risks.
Are there any older women who should not take birth control pills?
There’s no reason to think that once you reach a certain age, you should automatically stop taking birth control pills. Most women are safe taking birth control pills up until menopause.
With that being said, the process of aging inherently has its own risks. Even if you were healthy as a younger woman, you could develop a blood clotting disorder or uncontrolled high blood pressure over time. If you do develop either of these conditions, you and your doctor might decide that birth control pills are no longer a safe option. That’s because both combination pills and progestin-only pills [link to: choosing the best birth control pill for you] can increase risk of blood clots.
Likewise, women over age 35 who smoke have an even higher risk of complications with birth control. Both birth control pills and smoking can increase the risk of heart disease, blood clots, and certain cancers. These two factors, combined with aging, only add to the risk of complications.
How do I stay safe while taking birth control pills long-term?
- Have regular checkups with your family physician or gynecologist. If you have concerns about your age and any medical conditions, don’t be afraid to mention those concerns to your doctor. Together, you can make the best decision about whether to continue taking birth control pills.
- Discuss your cancer risk with your family physician or gynecologist. Some women are concerned about whether taking birth control pills long-term can increase their risk of cancer. Be sure to discuss your personal and family cancer history with your family physician or gynecologist in order to make the best decision for your individual health.
- Stay consistent. If you find yourself missing pills, you may want to consider low maintenance birth control options like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants. These can only be done with an office visit with your doctor.
Lemonaid Health offers a convenient mobile service where our US-based, US-licensed nurse practitioners and doctors can write you a brand new prescription for birth control pills or a prescription for refills if safe and appropriate after reviewing your medical history.