New Birth Control Pills Are No Riskier for Gallstones

Whether a woman takes newer or older kinds of birth control pills, the risk of gallbladder disease is the same, according to a new study.

Since 2008, there have been numerous concerns that gallbladder disease is linked with drospirenone, a fourth-generation progestin used in newer birth control medications like Yaz and Yasmin, said study researcher Mahyar Etminan, assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

The new study shows that there does not seem to be a statistically significant increased risk of gallbladder disease with drospirenone, compared with other kinds of progestins used in birth control, Etminan said.

However, birth control pills in general could increase the risk of gallstones by increasing cholesterol levels in the bile and decreasing gallbladder movements, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hormone replacement therapy and excess estrogen from pregnancy also increase the risk of gallstones in this way, the NIH said.

Speculation that drospirenone is connected with an elevated risk of gallbladder disease was largely fueled by media reports and law firms that asked women to come forward if they experienced gallbladder disease while taking that kind of birth control, Etminan said.

"But of course there was no comparative study done on this question until today," he told MyHealthNewsDaily.

The new study was published today (April 18) in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Tracking birth control use

Etminan and his colleagues tracked birth control use and the health status of 2,721,014 women. All of the women took oral contraceptives that contained ethinyl estradiol (an estrogen used in almost all birth control pills) and one of seven kinds of progestins for at least six months.

Though some women developed gallbladder disease, their risk of the disease was not statistically higher depending on what kind of birth control they took, the study said.

Gallbladder disease or gallstones can manifest as a severe pain originating from the upper abdominal area, Etminan said. The pain can radiate to the back and also cause nausea.

Other risks

More than 100 million women around the world take an oral contraceptive, and nearly all birth control pills are a combination of low doses of estrogen and one of the progestins included in the study, he said.

"I would say they are generally safe, but there are risks of adverse events," Etminan said. But "when you weigh the risks and benefits, I think the benefits outweigh the risks."

Long-term use of birth control is known to carry other health risks like deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs), stroke and pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs), the study said. It's also known that estrogen and progesterone play a role in formation of gallstones, the study said.

Pass it on: The risk of gallbladder disease is not significantly higher with newer forms of birth control, which include the progestin drospirenone, than with other kinds of birth control that include other kinds of progestin.

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This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.

Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.