Intended for healthcare professionals


Risk of venous thromboembolism among users of third generation oral contraceptives compared with users of oral contraceptives with levonorgestrel before and after 1995: cohort and case-control analysis

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 11 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1190
  1. Hershel Jick, associate professor of medicine,
  2. James A Kaye, epidemiologist,
  3. Catherine Vasilakis-Scaramozza, epidemiologist,
  4. Susan S Jick, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics (hjick{at}
  1. Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program, Boston University School of Medicine, Lexington, MA 02421, USA
  1. Correspondence to: H Jick
  • Accepted 19 October 2000


Objective: To compare the risk of idiopathic venous thromboembolism among women taking third generation oral contraceptives (with gestodene or desogestrel) with that among women taking oral contraceptives with levonorgestrel.

Design: Cohort and case-control analyses derived from the General Practice Research Database.

Setting: UK general practices, January 1993 to December 1999.

Participants: Women aged 15-39 taking third generation oral contraceptives or oral contraceptives with levonorgestrel.

Main outcome measures: Relative incidence (cohort study) and odds ratios (case-control study) as measures of the relative risk of venous thromboembolism.

Results: The adjusted estimates of relative risk for venous thromboembolism associated with third generation oral contraceptives compared with oral contraceptives with levonorgestrel was 1.9 (95% confidence interval 1.3 to 2.8) in the cohort analysis and 2.3 (1.3 to 3.9) in the case-control study. The estimates for the two types of oral contraceptives were similar before and after the warning issued by the Committee on Safety of Medicines in October 1995. A shift away from the use of third generation oral contraceptives after the scare was more pronounced among younger women (who have a lower risk of venous thromboembolism) than among older women. Fewer cases of venous thromboembolism occurred in 1996 and later than would have been expected if the use of oral contraceptives had remained unchanged.

Conclusions: These findings are consistent with previously reported studies, which found that compared with oral contraceptives with levonorgestrel, third generation oral contraceptives are associated with around twice the risk of venous thromboembolism.


  • Competing interests The study on use of oral contraceptives based on the General Practice Research Database that was conducted by the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program in 1996 was funded by NV Organon.

  • Funding None.

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