“I always heard that getting pregnant could put RA into remission, but I never knew birth control could help, too.”
That’s what Patricia Stevens, of New York, told Healthline when she heard the latest news that women taking oral contraceptives may be at a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
“I think I’m too old to be on it now, but if I knew that birth control could help prevent RA, I would have stayed on it,” she said.
Stevens is referring to a study that was recently published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
How the study was conducted
The study was done by the Swedish Epidemiological Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis (EIRA) cohort.
It included women ages 18 and older who lived in Sweden between 1996 and 2014. The study compared 2,809 women with doctor-diagnosed RA with 5,312 women without RA randomly selected from the general population and matched for age.
Blood samples were taken from all the participants and lifestyle factors were taken into consideration.
The study looked at whether these women had ever had children, had ever breastfed, and had ever used contraceptives.
Factors like exercise, smoking, and level of education were also noted and compared.
What researchers learned
The study found that the risk of developing RA was lower in current users of the birth control pill, as well as in women who formerly took the pill.
The authors of the study concluded that taking the birth control pill for more than seven years was associated with a lower risk of developing RA, regardless of whether or not those patients had positive RA antibodies.
Seven years was also the average length of time that study participants were on the pill.
This isn’t the first time the effects of reproduction and the role hormones play in RA have been studied.
Previous studies have shown that pregnancy can put active RA into remission and reduce RA symptoms during the second trimester.
The researchers of the oral contraceptive study did not look at that those findings, but they did investigate whether breastfeeding had any impact on current or prospective RA patients.
The findings showed that although there was a lower RA risk for women who had breastfed at least one child, it wasn’t considered significant after accounting for other potentially influential factors.
The observational study also didn’t indicate causation or effect when it came to the relationship between oral contraceptives and RA.
Nor did it focus on what brand or type of birth control pill was used, only that taking a contraceptive pill for seven or more consecutive years seems to be linked to a relatively lower risk of developing RA.
Women with RA, like Stevens, have had mixed reactions to the news.
Maggie Barth from Pennsylvania told Healthline, “I’m already on birth control pills and I still developed RA, so I guess it isn’t true for everyone.”
But Gina Delmont, also of Pennsylvania, has hope.
“It’s worth a try,” she told Healthline. “If someone is not currently trying to have a child or start a family and they feel they’re at risk for RA or they have some positive rheumatoid tests but it isn’t full-fledged yet, then why not give it a try? There’s always hope.”