Medical aspects of oral contraceptive discontinuation.
Adv Contracept. 1992 Oct;8 Suppl 1:21-33. PMID: 1442247
Family Planning Center of Saint-Louis Hospital, Paris, France.
Oral contraceptive (OC) compliance is adversely affected by three medical factors: side effects, poor cycle control, and patients' fears of serious diseases. Most physicians recognize these factors but fail to understand their true impact on continuation rates. In one study, half of current OC users who changed brands and half of former OC users cited unwanted side effects as their reason for discontinuation. Moreover, a substantial number of women discontinue OCs without consulting their physicians. Among the so-called nuisance side effects cited by patients, the most prominent are bleeding irregularities. In new patients just beginning OC therapy, bleeding irregularities such as breakthrough bleeding and amenorrhea can lead to a very high discontinuation rate; as many as 50% of new users discontinue OCs before the end of the first year because of such side effects. OC discontinuation rates among other patient populations vary. The problem has not been studied extensively, but existing data show the problem is a large one. One study involving 550 women of various ages and years of OC use confirmed that cycle control problems led many women to discontinue OC use--often resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. Six percent of the women in this study discontinued OC use because of poor cycle control, and 23% of this group experienced subsequent unwanted pregnancies. In contrast, clinical tolerance with the new progestins such as gestodene is good; in one study 86% of patients had normal bleeding patterns. The principal consequences of poor cycle control are loss of confidence in the OC and the physician, increased anxiety, disruption of sexual relations, additional physician calls and visits, pregnancy tests, discontinuation, and noncompliance. The perception that European women have regarding the pill is that it is a reliable method that does not interfere with sexual activities. However, doubts about the safety of OCs influence compliance with the method. While concerns regarding blood clots have diminished, the fear of cancer is still a concern for many women. The androgenic side effects of weight gain, acne,and breast tenderness are particularly troubling for adolescents, who are sensitive to changes in body image. In one recent study, 20% to 25% of women stopped taking OCs because of weight gain or acne, and another 25% stopped because of fear of cancer. The medical component of improving compliance is the physician's choice of OC. Formulations with low, effective doses of hormones and the fewest side effects should be selected. Cycle control and the side-effect profile are improved with the new progestins.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)