Scare over oral contraceptives

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7020.1637 (Published 16 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1637
  1. J L Armstrong,
  2. M Reid,
  3. A Bigrigg
  1. Registrar in public health Senior lecturer Department of Public Health, Greater Glasgow Health Board, Glasgow G2 4JT
  2. Clinical director Centre for Family Planning and Sexual Health, Glasgow G2 7XR

    Effect on behaviour of women attending a family planning clinic

    EDITOR,--The Department of Health's recent press release concerning the safety of some third generation contraceptive pills has important consequences for women using oral contraception.1 To document their views and any change in behaviour of women taking the contraceptive pill after this warning, a survey was carried out at a large family planning clinic.

    After the announcement a telephone helpline was established at the clinic. This took 2348 calls on the first seven days, and the number of attendances rose from an expected 700 to 2029 in that week. One week later a piloted questionnaire was given to a representative sample of women before consultation over six days. A response rate of 71% was obtained (n=274). The age range was 14-54, with 50 women under 20 and 58 over 30. The table gives the women's views. Those who were and those who were not using oral contraception differed in terms of their awareness of the announcement (177 (99%) v 85 (89%) were aware of it) although not in the belief that the announcement was a reasonable method of informing women (97 (54%) v 50 (52%)).

    The behaviour of the 178 women taking the pill was examined. Altogether 141 were taking a preparation implicated in the scare. Thirty seven either had already changed brands or commented that they intended to change. Sixteen had stopped taking the pill because of the announcement, of whom eight subsequently had intercourse without contraception. No one taking pills not mentioned in the scare stopped because of the announcement or intended to change.

    Women's views on announcement about risks associated with contraceptive pill. Figures are numbers (percentages)

    View this table:

    It has been estimated that 1.5 million women were advised to change brands.2 Although the findings of this survey cannot be generalised, we think it likely that many thousands of women may subsequently have had unprotected intercourse, which will have resulted in an increase in unwanted pregnancies.

    The use of the mass media to disseminate information is well established and has led to a high level of awareness in the target group (pill users). Ways of using this resource that will also give women an accurate representation of the risks must be developed.


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