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When Women Can Stop Using Contraceptives

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  • Contraceptive protection is still needed for women aged >44 years if the woman wants to avoid pregnancy.

Comments and Evidence Summary. The age at which a woman is no longer at risk for pregnancy is not known. Although uncommon, spontaneous pregnancies occur among women aged >44 years. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the North American Menopause Society recommend that women continue contraceptive use until menopause or age 50–55 years (333,334). The median age of menopause is approximately 51 years in North America (333) but can vary from ages 40 to 60 years (335). The median age of definitive loss of natural fertility is 41 years but can range up to age 51 years (336,337). No reliable laboratory tests are available to confirm definitive loss of fertility in a woman. The assessment of follicle-stimulating hormone levels to determine when a woman is no longer fertile might not be accurate (333).

Health-care providers should consider the risks for becoming pregnant in a woman of advanced reproductive age, as well as any risks of continuing contraception until menopause. Pregnancies among women of advanced reproductive age are at higher risk for maternal complications, such as hemorrhage, venous thromboembolism, and death, and fetal complications, such as spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, and congenital anomalies (338340). Risks associated with continuing contraception, in particular risks for acute cardiovascular events (venous thromboembolism, myocardial infarction, or stroke) or breast cancer, also are important to consider. U.S. MEC states that on the basis of age alone, women aged >45 years can use POPs, implants, the LNG-IUD, or the Cu-IUD (U.S. MEC 1) (5). Women aged >45 years generally can use combined hormonal contraceptives and DMPA (U.S. MEC 2) (5). However, women in this age group might have chronic conditions or other risk factors that might render use of hormonal contraceptive methods unsafe; U.S. MEC might be helpful in guiding the safe use of contraceptives in these women.

In two studies, the incidence of venous thromboembolism was higher among oral contraceptive users aged ≥45 years compared with younger oral contraceptive users (341343); however, an interaction between hormonal contraception and increased age compared with baseline risk was not demonstrated (341,342) or was not examined (343). The relative risk for myocardial infarction was higher among all oral contraceptive users than in nonusers, although a trend of increased relative risk with increasing age was not demonstrated (344,345). No studies were found regarding the risk for stroke in COC users aged ≥45 years (Level of evidence: II-2, good to poor, direct).

A pooled analysis by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors and Breast Cancer in 1996 (346) found small increased relative risks for breast cancer among women aged ≥45 years whose last use of combined hormonal contraceptives was <5 years previously and for those whose last use was 5–9 years previously. Seven more recent studies suggested small but nonsignificant increased relative risks for breast carcinoma in situ or breast cancer among women who had used oral contraceptives or DMPA when they were aged ≥40 years compared with those who had never used either method (347–353) (Level of evidence: II-2, fair, direct).

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