Half of Women Unaware that Pregnancy Is More Dangerous Than Contraception

May 7, 2013

New Orleans, LA -- About half of pregnant women incorrectly believe that hormonal contraception is more dangerous than pregnancy, according to new research presented today at the Annual Clinical Meeting of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Studies show that approximately 30% of women with an undesired pregnancy do not use contraception. Data on the number of women who do not use contraceptives due to safety concerns have varied.  

Brandy J. Becker, MD, and Sarah J. Betstadt, MD, MPH, at the University of Rochester, in Rochester, NY, sought to evaluate patients’ knowledge of medical risks from hormonal contraception compared with risks from pregnancy. They offered an anonymous survey to women receiving pregnancy counseling at the university’s family planning clinic.   

“Almost half of the women in our study were unaware that pregnancy is more dangerous than contraception,” Dr. Becker said. The overall risk of death for young healthy nonsmokers using oral contraceptives (OC) is 240 times lower than the risk of death from pregnancy-related complications, according to the researchers. The risk of developing potentially deadly blood clots in pregnancy is five times greater than the risk of blood clots from OCs. A woman’s highest risk of blood clots is during the immediate postpartum period.

Of the 50 women surveyed in this study, only 16% said they were actively using contraception. The majority said they felt that hormonal contraception (84%) and pregnancy (88%) were safe. However, when asked which was safer, 46% chose pregnancy over contraception. When asked about specific risks, considerably more women (57%) felt that there were no concerns with pregnancy versus no concerns with contraception (31%). Additionally, significantly more women expressed more concerns with contraception use than pregnancy:  pulmonary embolism, 40% with contraception vs. 7% with pregnancy; cancer risk, 24% with contraception vs. 2% with pregnancy; and infertility, 29% with contraception vs. 7% with pregnancy.

“The risks of pregnancy, deemed such a natural and healthy process by society, get overshadowed by the highly publicized reports of contraceptive-related complications,” Dr. Becker said. “If women continue to receive more influence on their contraceptive choices from media than their health care providers, we will never make progress at lowering unplanned pregnancy rates.” 

The caveats to this study include the small sample size of 50 and the largest portion of those surveyed were in the lower socioeconomic brackets, making extrapolation to the general US population impossible, Dr. Becker said.

*Tuesday Poster #1: Patient Perception of Safety of Hormonal Contraception Compared to Pregnancy        

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), a 501(c)(3) organization, is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 57,000 members, The College strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a 501(c)(6) organization, is its companion organization.


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