Hormonal contraception and the risk of severe asthma exacerbation: 17-year population-based cohort study

Thorax. 2021 Feb;76(2):109-115. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-215540. Epub 2020 Nov 23.


Background: Longitudinal studies investigating impact of exogenous sex steroids on clinical outcomes of asthma in women are lacking. We investigated the association between use of hormonal contraceptives and risk of severe asthma exacerbation in reproductive-age women with asthma.

Methods: We used the Optimum Patient Care Research Database, a population-based, longitudinal, anonymised primary care database in the UK, to construct a 17-year (1 January 2000-31 December 2016) retrospective cohort of reproductive-age (16-45 years, n=83 084) women with asthma. Using Read codes, we defined use, subtypes and duration of use of hormonal contraceptives. Severe asthma exacerbation was defined according to recommendations of the European Respiratory Society/American Thoracic Society as asthma-related hospitalisation, accident and emergency department visits due to asthma and/or oral corticosteroid prescriptions. Analyses were done using multilevel mixed-effects Poisson regression with QR decomposition.

Results: The 17-year follow-up resulted in 456 803 person-years of follow-up time. At baseline, 34% of women were using any hormonal contraceptives, 25% combined (oestrogen/progestogen) and 9% progestogen-only contraceptives. Previous (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 0.94, 95% CI 0.92 to 0.97) and current (IRR 0.96, 95% CI 0.94 to 0.98) use of any, previous (IRR 0.92, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.97) and current use of combined (IRR 0.93, 95% CI 0.91 to 0.96) and longer duration of use (3-4 years: IRR 0.94, 95% CI 0.92 to 0.97; 5+ years: IRR 0.91, 95% CI 0.89 to 0.93) of hormonal contraceptives, but not progestogen-only contraceptives, were associated with reduced risk of severe asthma exacerbation compared with non-use.

Conclusions: Use of hormonal contraceptives may reduce the risk of severe asthma exacerbation in reproductive-age women. Mechanistic studies investigating the biological basis for the influence of hormonal contraceptives on clinical outcomes of asthma in women are required.

Protocol registration number: European Union electronic Register of Post-Authorisation Studies (EUPAS22967).

Keywords: asthma; asthma epidemiology; clinical epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Hormonal Contraception*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Symptom Flare Up*
  • United Kingdom