The objective of this study was to assess the influence of oral contraceptives (OCs) on the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in young women. A 5-year case-control study including all Danish hospitals was conducted. All women 15-44 years old, suffering a first ever deep venous thrombosis or a first pulmonary embolism (PE) during the period January 1, 1994, to December 30, 1998, were included. Controls were selected annually, 600 per year in 1994-1995 and 1200 per year 1996-1998. Response rates for cases and controls were 87.2% and 89.7%, respectively. After exclusion of nonvalid diagnoses, pregnant women, and women with previous thrombotic disease, 987 cases and 4054 controls were available for analysis. A multivariate, matched analysis was performed. Controls were matched to cases within 1-year age bands. Adjustment was made for confounding influence (if any) from the following variables: age, year, body mass index, length of OC use, family history of VTE, cerebral thrombosis or myocardial infarction, coagulopathies, diabetes, years of schooling, and previous birth. The risk of VTE among current users of OCs was primarily influenced by duration of use, with significantly decreasing odds ratios (OR) over time: <1 year, 7.0 (5.1-9.6); 1-5 years, 3.6 (2.7-4.8); and >5 years, 3.1 (2.5-3.8), all compared with nonusers of OCs. After adjustment for confounders, current use of OCs with second- (levonorgestrel or norgestimate) and third- (desogestrel or gestodene) generation progestins when compared with nonuse resulted in ORs for VTE of 2.9 (2.2-3.8) and 4.0 (3.2-4.9), respectively. After adjusting for progestin types and length of use, the risk decreased significantly with decreasing estrogen dose. With 30-40 microg as reference, 20 and 50 microg products implied ORs of 0.6 (0.4-0.9) and 1.6 (0.9-2.8), respectively (p(trend) = 0.02). After correction for duration of use and differences in estrogen dose, the third/second-generation risk ratio was 1.3 (1.0-1.8; p <0.05). In conclusion, use of OCs was associated significantly to the risk of VTE. The risk among current users was reduced by more than 50% during the first years of use. The risk increased more than 100% with increasing estrogen dose, and the difference in risk between users of third- and second-generation OCs, after correction for length of use and estrogen dose, was 33%.