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JAMA Intern Med. 2018 Nov 1;178(11):1482-1488. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4251.

Association of Risk for Venous Thromboembolism With Use of Low-Dose Extended- and Continuous-Cycle Combined Oral Contraceptives: A Safety Study Using the Sentinel Distributed Database.

Author information

Division of Epidemiology, Office of Pharmacovigilance and Epidemiology, Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, US Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland.
Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.



Continuous/extended cyclic estrogen use (84/7 or 365/0 days cycles) in combined oral contraceptives (COCs) could potentially expose women to an increased cumulative dose of estrogen, compared with traditional cyclic regimens (21/7 days cycle), and may increase the risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE).


To determine, while holding the progestogen type constant, whether the risk for VTE is higher with use of continuous/extended COCs than with cyclic COCs among women who initiated a COC containing ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel.

Design, Setting, and Participants:

Incident user retrospective cohort study of primarily commercially insured US population identified from the Sentinel Distributed Database. Participants were women aged 18 to 50 years at the time of initiating a study COC between May 2007 and September 2015. Using a propensity score approach and Cox proportional hazards regression models, we estimated the hazard ratios of VTE overall and separately by ethinyl estradiol dose and age groups.


Initiation of continuous/extended or traditional cyclic COCs containing ethinyl estradiol or levonorgestrel of any dose.

Main Outcomes and Measures:

First VTE hospitalization that occurred during the study follow-up, identified by an inpatient International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification diagnosis code of 415.1, 415.1x, 453, 453.x, or 453.xx.


We identified 210 691 initiators of continuous/extended COCs (mean [SD] age, 30.4 [8.6] years) and 522 316 initiators of cyclic COCs (mean [SD] age, 28.8 [8.3] years), with a mean of 0.7 person-years at risk among continuous/extended and cyclic users. Baseline cardiovascular and metabolic conditions (7.2% vs 4.7%), gynecological conditions (39.7% vs 32.3%), and health services utilization were slightly higher among continuous/extended cyclic than cyclic COC users. Propensity score matching decreased the hazard ratio estimates from 1.84 (95% CI, 1.53-2.21) to 1.32 (95% CI, 1.07-1.64) for continuous/extended use compared with cyclic COC use. The absolute risk difference (0.27 per 1000 persons) and the incidence rate difference (0.35 cases per 1000 person-years [1.44 vs 1.09 cases per 1000 person-years]) between the 2 propensity score-matched cohorts remained low, which may not translate into a clinically significant risk differences between cyclic and noncyclic estrogen use.

Conclusions and Relevance:

Holding the progestogen type constant (levonorgestrel), we observed a slightly elevated VTE risk in association with continuous/extended COC use when compared with cyclic COC use. However, due to the small absolute risk difference and potential residual confounding, our findings did not show strong evidence supporting a VTE risk difference between continuous/extended and cyclic COC use.

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