Hormones could raise risk of developing central nervous system disorder
A woman’s birth control method could bring on multiple sclerosis (MS), the central nervous system disorder marked by extreme fatigue, difficulty walking, visual problems and numbness or tingling.
In a study comparing 305 women with MS or its precursor (clinically isolated syndrome) to 3,050 women without the disease, researchers found that women who had taken birth control pills were 35 percent more likely to develop MS.
“These results are demonstrating an association,” says study author Kerstin Hellwig, a postdoctoral researcher at Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “I don’t want to say that we can firmly establish causality.”
If oral contraceptives do play a role in MS (most of the study participants taking birth control pills used a combination pill containing both the hormones estrogen and progestin), Hellwig says it’s probably an effect of the hormones on the immune system.
The results are preliminary and Hellwig doesn’t suggest women rush to find a different birth control method. “At this point, women who take oral contraceptives shouldn’t be concerned about developing MS because of oral contraceptives. It may be one of many factors, but it’s not the one factor causing MS,” she says.