Why is it important to measure blood pressure before prescribing hormonal contraception?
Combined hormonal contraceptives (CHCs) are a relatively safe and effective method for your patients in preventing pregnancy and treating other disease states such as menorrhagia, endometriosis, PCOS and more. However, CHCs may increase the risk for a few serious cardiovascular events. This risk is increased if a patient has hypertension.
Screening for hypertension prior to staring CHCs is a class A recommendation for safe use according to the U.S. Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use (SRC). In a systemic review, women who did not have their blood pressure checked prior to starting hormonal contraception had higher odds of having an acute myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke.
Also, in a small percentage of patients, CHCs can cause life-threatening hypertension, which can lead to irreversible damage to the kidneys and cause renal failure. This effect can last after the medication is discontinued.
Due to these severe adverse effects, all patients are screened for hypertension prior to starting CHCs. If a patient is hypertensive, they should be treated appropriately and have blood pressure well controlled prior to starting a hormonal contraceptive method.
How do CHCs raise blood pressure?
The mechanism by which CHCs increase blood pressure is unknown. Regardless, CHCs can cause small increases in blood pressure in both normotensive patients and patients with hypertension which is significant enough to be recognized as a risk for hypertensive patients.
Who is at risk of complications from CHCs?
It is not advised to use CHCs in patients with severe hypertension (defined as systolic blood pressure (SBP) ≥ 160 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure (DBP) ≥ 100 mmHg). However, in people with controlled and monitored hypertension and who are also under 35 years of age, CHCs may be appropriate as long as they are otherwise healthy and do not smoke (U.S. MEC 3). It is important to mention that even if a patient has hypertension that is under control, there is still a risk present for cardiovascular events and that other contraceptive options should be considered before initiating a CHC.
Patients are at a higher risk of cardiovascular complications if they are older than 35 years of age, have a familial history of hypertension, cardiovascular disease or preexisting occult renal disease, and if the patient is obese. Providers should use discretion in patients with these preexisting conditions before starting CHCs or consider more appropriate contraceptive options.
What other options are there for patients with hypertension?
Patients with uncontrolled hypertension, or who are at risk of malignant hypertension have other options for contraception. Progestin only contraceptives such as progestin only pills (POPS), the shot, or levonorgestrel-containing IUDs are recommended over CHCs according to the CDC MEC for women with hypertension. Non-hormonal options include the copper-containing IUD, condoms, or spermicides.
- Tepper NK, Curtis KM, Steenland MW, Marchbanks PA. Blood pressure measurement prior to initiating hormonal contraception: a systematic review. Contraception 2013;87:631–8.
- CDC. U.S. medical eligibility criteria for contraceptive use, 2016. MMWR Recomm Rep (No. RR-X);2016.
- Development, updates, and future directions of the World Health Organization Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use. Int J Gynecol Obstet 2017;136: 113–119 – 04 January 2017
- Armstrong, Carrie. Hormonal Contraceptives in Women with Coexisting Medical Conditions. Am Fam Physician. 2007 Apr 15;75(8):1252-1258.
- El-Ibiary SY, Shrader SP, Ragucci KR. Contraception. In: DiPiro JT, Yee GC, Posey L, Haines ST, Nolin TD, Ellingrod V. eds. Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiologic Approach, 11e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed July 22, 2020. https://accesspharmacy-mhmedical-com.mwu.idm.oclc.org/content.aspx?bookid=2577§ionid=227710658
About the Author
Elizabeth Duxbury Pharm.D. is a recent graduate of University of California, San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2019.
Article reviewed by Breanna Failla, PharmD Candidate and Brooke Griffin, PharmD, BCACP