The use of oral contraceptives has been associated with incident systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), according to a study published in the April issue of Arthritis Care & Research. Lupus is a chronic, usually life-long autoimmune disease.
Researchers examined data on over 1.7 million women ages 18 to 45, all of whom were taking combined estrogen and progestogen oral contraceptives. Scientists found that over an average eight-year span, 786 women had a first-time diagnosis of lupus. The risk was primarily limited to current users, women who had just started using contraception, and those using older first- and second-generation oral contraceptives as opposed to third-generation ones. In addition, oral contraceptives containing the highest dose of ethinyl estradiol – 50 mcg – were associated with the highest risk.
Lupus affects women more than men in a 9:1 ratio. SLE most often targets the joints, skin, kidneys, brain, lungs, heart, serosa and gastrointestinal tract and can be fatal. Researchers have called for further studies to identify women who are most vulnerable to developing lupus after taking oral contraception.