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Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1992 Apr;71(3):169-74.

Contraception after thirty-five.

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  • 1Department of Medical Chemistry, University of Helsinki, Finland.


Our knowledge about the safety, the incidence of side effects, and the effectiveness of contraceptive methods for women in premenopause, or during the last decade of their reproductive life, has not been a primary interest for research and development in fertility control. The main purpose of trials for the evaluation of new contraceptive methods is to test their effectiveness, and therefore only women below 38 years of age are accepted. Furthermore, when new methods are being tested, only healthy women are accepted, and those having health problems of almost any kind are excluded. Therefore our knowledge about the contraceptive methods in women over 40 years of age is scanty and comes from trials with a long-lasting follow-up on healthy women who can use the method without problems until they are 45 or reach menopause. We have very limited reported information on the use of contraceptives by women who have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver problems, etc. Therefore the main body of experience in this review comes from healthy women between 35 and 44. On the other hand, one should remember that these women have a high motivation to use contraceptive methods and therefore the continuation rate in the trials is high. This compensates for the relatively small number of acceptors by giving more women-years in follow-up. Continuation rate and the proper use of methods are directly correlated to increase in age, socioeconomical status, and to education of users. Highly educated women in this age group have very low failure rate with almost any method.


Research and development in contraception has only limited interest in women over 35 years old, so we know little about safety, side effects, and effectiveness of contraceptives in this age group. In addition, clinical trials use healthy women which further limits our knowledge about contraceptives in women who have cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and liver conditions. Research does indicate, however, that women with high blood pressure should not take oral contraceptives (OCs) after the age of 35. It also shows that healthy and nonobese women over 35 who do not smoke and have no family history of cardiovascular disease before age 45 can take OCs with 30 mcg of ethinyl estradiol. Practitioners should provide these women with balanced and up-to-date information on the link between OCs and breast cancer and their apparent protective effect against endometrial cancer. The pregnancy rate for 35-39 year old married women using the diaphragm for at least 5 months stands at 1.1/100 women years. Contrary to popular belief, barrier methods can be harmful, e.g., urinary tract infections are more frequent in women who use the diaphragm than in those who do not. Women older than 35 should consider the condom because of its ability to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV or sexually transmitted diseases. Considerable research exists on women over 35 who use copper releasing IUDs. These IUDs are safe in women who do not have heavy menstrual bleeding. The levonorgestrel releasing IUDs are well tolerated in women over 35 since they reduce the amount and duration of menstrual bleeding. Besides users of these IUDs are less likely to have pelvic inflammatory disease and endometritis than those using copper releasing IUDs. Older women in developing countries often undergo hysterectomy for contraceptive purposes and because of heavy bleeding. Tubal ligation is a significant family planning method for older women in developing countries.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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