Health benefits of oral contraceptives

Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2000 Dec;27(4):705-21. doi: 10.1016/s0889-8545(05)70169-8.


A sizeable literature corroborates the multiple health benefits of oral contraceptive use. The first estrogen/progestin combination pills were marketed to treat a variety of menstrual disorders. Although currently used oral contraceptives no longer carry FDA-approved labeling for these indications, they remain important therapeutic options for a variety of gynecologic conditions. Well-established gynecologic benefits include a reduction in dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia, iron-deficiency anemia, ectopic pregnancy, and PID. Although older, higher-dose pills reduced the incidence of ovarian cysts, low-dose pills suppress follicular activity less consistently. Nevertheless, cycle-related symptoms, including functional cysts, dysmenorrhea, chronic pelvic pain, and ovulation pain (mittelschmerz), generally improve. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome note improvement in bleeding patterns and a reduction in acne and hirsutism. Symptoms from endometriosis also improve with oral contraceptive therapy. Current data suggest that oral contraceptive therapy increases bone density and that past use decreases fracture risk. Oral contraceptives also improve acne, a major health concern of young women. Oral contraceptives provide lasting reduction in the risk of two serious gynecologic malignancies--ovarian and endometrial cancer. The data with respect to ovarian cancer are compelling enough to recommend the use of oral contraceptives to women at high risk by virtue of family history, positive carrier status of the BRCA mutations, or nulliparity, even if contraception is not required. Health care providers must counsel women regarding these benefits to counteract deeply held public attitudes and misconceptions regarding oral contraceptive use. Messages should focus on topics of interest to particular groups of women. The fact that oral contraceptives increase bone mineral density and reduce ovarian cancer is of great interest to women in their forties and helps influence use and compliance in this group. In contrast, the beneficial effects of oral contraceptives on acne resonates with younger women. Getting the good news out about the benefits of oral contraceptives will enable more women to take advantage of their positive health effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Contraceptives, Oral* / therapeutic use
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Menstruation Disturbances / drug therapy
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy


  • Contraceptives, Oral