Contraceptive Benefits for Women with Arthritis

January 7, 2016
Rachel Lutz

Study shows links between past and current oral birth control usage with better patient reported outcomes for arthritis symptoms

Women with arthritis may benefit from oral contraceptives, according to findings published in Arthritis Care & Research.

Researchers from various centers in Germany studied 273 female arthritis patients aged between 18-to-60-years-old in order to evaluate the link between exposure to oral contraceptives and clinical outcomes in a population of early arthritis patients over a period of 2 years. The participants in the study had no prior exposure to hormone replacement.

The researchers collected data surrounding contraceptive exposure (either current, past, or never) and arthritis disease activity, treatment, and patient reported outcomes. The outcomes were reported based on the Rheumatoid Arthritis Impact of Disease Score (RAID), the Rheumatoid Arthritis Disease Activity Index (RADAI), the Profile of Mood and Discomfort (PROFAD), and the Hannover Functional Assessment (FFbH). The researchers also observed the patients’ body mass index, parity, smoking status, and education levels.

Of the patients, 18% had never used oral contraceptives, 63% had used oral contraceptives in the past, and 19% were currently using oral contraceptives. The researchers found that the use of oral contraceptives was linked to better RAID, PROFAD, RADAI, and FFbH scores at 12 months follow-up compared to never use participants.

Over the 2-year period, the average RAID scores were significantly higher in women with both current and former oral contraceptive use compared to the never used group. Actual inflammatory markers were not linked to oral contraceptive use, the researchers said.

“For past as well as current use, oral contraceptives seem to moderate patient reported outcomes in inflammatory arthritis,” the authors wrote. “Protective effects may be induced via central nervous pathways rather than through the suppression of peripheral inflammation.”

The researchers added that glucocorticoids were used by a higher percentage of oral contraceptive never users than by current or past oral contraceptive users — especially in arthritis patients with impaired function, the authors said.