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Hormonal Contraceptives Linked To Higher Depression Risk: Study

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Women on contraceptive pills are likelier to be treated for depression, says a large Danish study.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study sought to explore the relationship between contraceptive use and mood, given millions of women around the world use birth control. Specifically, the researchers wanted to examine how taking contraceptive pills affects depression risk.

For the study, Øjvind Lidegaard and colleagues used registry data from over a million adolescent girls and women between the ages of 15 and 34, all without major mental health disorders. A follow-up period ensued between 2000 and 2013, with an average follow-up lasting 6.4 years.

Based on the results of their work, the researchers saw that those who used combined contraceptives, the type many Americans use, were 23 percent likelier to be prescribed antidepressants, while those who took progestin-only pills were 34 percent likelier to be diagnosed with depression.

In teens, those on the combined pill were 80 percent likelier to be prescribed antidepressants while those taking just progestin were more than twice likelier to receive prescriptions for depression than their counterparts who are not taking birth control.

Combination contraceptives work by combining estrogen and progestin. It and the progestin-only contraceptive prevent pregnancies by keeping a woman from ovulating or stopping egg production, thinning the uterine lining to prevent eggs from implanting or thickening the cervical lining to make it more difficult for sperm to get through.

According to the researchers, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men during their lifetime, but rates of diagnosis are more or less the same before puberty. Fluctuating levels in the hormones estrogen and progesterone have been implicated and earlier studies have pointed at higher progesterone levels as particularly lowering mood.

The results of the study may sound alarming, but experts are urging women not to be deterred in using contraceptives because the benefits of using birth control pills far outweigh its side effects. Not to mention that different people respond differently to medication, so it is entirely possible for depression not to manifest just because one is taking contraceptive pills.

However, doctors have to be upfront with their patients regarding the possible side effects of contraceptive pills to help them decide on a form of birth control that will offer them the best benefit.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 use oral contraceptives, while 7 percent turn to long-acting contraceptives and over 4 percent use patches or vaginal rings or get a shot.

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