Oral contraceptive discontinuation: do side effects matter?

Carolyn L. Westhoff, Stephen Heartwell, Sharon Edwards, Mimi Zieman, Gretchen Stuart, Carrie Cwiak, Anne Davis, Tina Robilotto, Linda Cushman, Debra Kalmuss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess self-reported side effects in women after they received the oral contraceptive (OC) and to compare discontinuation rates, according to presence or absence of side effects. Study Design: The study comprised 1716 women aged <25 years who initiated the OC at 3 publicly funded family planning clinics and completed structured interviews after 3 and 6 months. Results: Nearly 60% of subjects discontinued the OC by 6 months. Most subjects reported no changes in headaches, weight, moodiness, and sexual satisfaction during the first 3 months of OC use. Subjects with any complaints, especially women with increased headaches or moodiness, were more likely to discontinue the OC prematurely. Nonetheless, most discontinuation occurred for reasons that were unrelated to side effects. Conclusion: Side effects are absent or mild among most OC users, but women with complaints are more likely to discontinue. Side effects are less important reasons for discontinuation than widely believed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412.e1-412.e7
JournalAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • continuation rate
  • oral contraceptive
  • side effect


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