Birth Control Method Might Increase Diabetes Risk

Hormonal birth control and gestational diabetes connected in recent study of contraceptives

Many factors can affect a woman's decision about birth control methods, and an increased risk for diabetes may be one of them.

A new study looked at how various methods of birth control may be tied to the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy.

The study found that women who were using hormonal birth control methods before becoming pregnant had an increased risk for developing gestational diabetes.

Learn the pros and cons of the different contraceptive methods.

This study was conducted by Venkata Garikapaty, PhD, of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in Jefferson City, and colleagues.

Diabetes is a condition marked by an inability to produce or properly use the hormone insulin, which helps transport glucose out of the blood and into the tissues. Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who did not have a history of the condition before pregnancy.

"Gestational diabetes is a potentially serious condition that affects many pregnancies. The significant potential complications of diabetes in pregnancy was in large part responsible for the now universal recommendation that all pregnant women be tested for diabetes at approximately 28 weeks, earlier if certain high risk categories exist," explained Andre Hall, MD, an OB-GYN at Birth and Women's Care, PA in Fayetteville, NC.

According to Dr. Garikapaty and team, "The efficacy and safety of contraceptives have been questioned for decades; however, whether a relationship exists between hormonal contraceptives and gestational diabetes (GDM) is undetermined."

These researchers set out to explore any potential connection between the type of contraception used before a woman became pregnant and her risk of developing gestational diabetes. To do so, the researchers used the Missouri Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System to analyze data gathered in 2007 and 2008. This included 2,741 women from across Missouri who had given birth two to four months before being surveyed.

The researchers asked the women what, if any, birth control method they were using before becoming pregnant, including barrier methods like condoms, fertility awareness methods like the rhythm method and hormonal methods. Hormonal contraception methods included oral birth control pills, injections, contraceptive patches, cervical rings and intrauterine devices.

Of the women studied, 8.3 percent were diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Overall, 17.9 percent of the women had used hormonal contraceptive methods, making it the most common form, followed closely by barrier methods at 17.2 percent. Slightly more than half (56 percent) reported not using any contraception.

After analyzing the data, Dr. Garikapaty and team found that women who used hormonal contraceptive methods were 1.43 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who were not using any contraception.

The researchers also saw evidence that other factors may be connected to gestational diabetes, including age and weight. Women aged 30 or older had a 1.5 times greater risk for developing gestational diabetes than women younger than 20. Women who were overweight or obese before their pregnancies were 3.04 times more likely than women of average weight to develop the condition.

"I would be cautious in reading too much into this study as hormonal forms of contraception are widely used. Because of this prevalence, I suspect that most conditions in pregnancy are more prevalent in women who used hormonal forms of contraception. Other conditions such as age and obesity have a much greater preponderance of evidence supporting their link to gestational diabetes," Dr. Hall told dailyRx News.

"To that end, weight reduction and limiting delaying childbearing are better modes of decreasing the risks of developing diabetes in pregnancy than altering one's birth control," he said.

This study focused on only one US state and was based on self-reported data. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

"This study’s significant finding correlating contraceptive method and risk for [gestational diabetes] merits further exploration," Dr. Garikapaty and colleagues wrote. "The prevalence of [gestational diabetes] continues to increase worldwide, and definitive screening and preventive measures are needed to deter its chronic lifelong complications."

The study was published online July 17 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Disease. No conflicts of interest were reported.