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Contraception Selection, Effectiveness, and Adverse EffectsA Review

Educational Objective
To understand the benefits and risks of contraceptive methods.
1 Credit CME

Importance  Many women spend a substantial proportion of their lives preventing or planning for pregnancy, and approximately 87% of US women use contraception during their lifetime.

Observations  Contraceptive effectiveness is determined by a combination of drug or device efficacy, individual fecundability, coital frequency, and user adherence and continuation. In the US, oral contraceptive pills are the most commonly used reversible method of contraception and comprise 21.9% of all contraception in current use. Pregnancy rates of women using oral contraceptives are 4% to 7% per year. Use of long-acting methods, such as intrauterine devices and subdermal implants, has increased substantially, from 6% of all contraceptive users in 2008 to 17.8% in 2016; these methods have failure rates of less than 1% per year. Estrogen-containing methods, such as combined oral contraceptive pills, increase the risk of venous thrombosis from 2 to 10 venous thrombotic events per 10 000 women-years to 7 to 10 venous thrombotic events per 10 000 women-years, whereas progestin-only and nonhormonal methods, such as implants and condoms, are associated with rare serious risks. Hormonal contraceptives can improve medical conditions associated with hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle, such as acne, endometriosis, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Optimal contraceptive selection requires patient and clinician discussion of the patient’s tolerance for risk of pregnancy, menstrual bleeding changes, other risks, and personal values and preferences.

Conclusions and Relevance  Oral contraceptive pills are the most commonly used reversible contraceptives, intrauterine devices and subdermal implants have the highest effectiveness, and progestin-only and nonhormonal methods have the lowest risks. Optimal contraceptive selection incorporates patient values and preferences.

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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.

Article Information

Corresponding Author: Stephanie Teal, MD, MPH, Department of OB/GYN, University Hospitals Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University, 11100 Euclid Ave, MAC-5304 Cleveland, OH 44106 (Stephanie.Teal@uhhospitals.org).

Accepted for Publication: November 10, 2021.

Author Contributions: Drs Teal and Edelman had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: Both authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Both authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: Both authors.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Edelman.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Both authors.

Supervision: Both authors.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Teal reported receiving grants from Merck & Co, Bayer Healthcare, Sebela, and Medicines360, and personal fees from Merck & Co and Bayer Healthcare outside the submitted work. Dr Edelman reported receiving grants from Merck, research funds from HRA Pharma, and royalties from UpToDate outside the submitted work.

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