Closed petition Fund research into improving the safety of contraceptive options

The side effects of the contraceptive pill & other methods like the coil can be extremely damaging & range from anxiety, depression, strokes & heart attacks. Current forms of contraception can affect hormone balance which can cause a range of different issues, yet we have little to no options.

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Contraceptive options are extremely limited and all come with different side-effects that can have a negative impact on the body. Male contraceptive options haven’t been made available because of unwanted side-effects, so why is it ok for women to experience side-effects?

Action is needed to make contraception safer for everyone who uses it, as well as increase options for people without having to compromise other aspects of their health.

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Government responded

This response was given on 9 September 2020

The safety of contraception has been extensively studied. A range of safe and effective contraceptive options are available and advantages and risks must be balanced for each individual.

Read the response in full

A range of contraceptive options are available to women including some that contain hormones (hormonal contraceptives). Hormonal contraceptives can contain combinations of oestrogens and progestogens e.g. combined contraceptive pill, skin patch or vaginal ring. Other hormonal contraceptives contain progestogen alone e.g. progestogen only pill (or mini-pill), contraceptive injections, implant and intra-uterine hormone releasing devices (hormone coils). Contraceptives that don’t contain hormones include intra-uterine copper coils and barrier methods that physically prevent sperm and egg from meeting, e.g. diaphragms (caps), spermicides and condoms. In addition to these options, surgical sterilisation by means of an operation, may be appropriate and acceptable for some women.

Contraceptive options for men currently consist only of condoms. Male sterilisation, through a surgical procedure known as vasectomy, may be appropriate and acceptable for some men. Any new contraceptive options developed for men, need to meet the same standards of quality, effectiveness and safety as for female contraceptives.

The suitability of all contraceptive options for individual women needs to be considered in the context of medical history, lifestyle and personal circumstances. The contraceptive method offered aims to ensure the woman realises the benefits of effective contraception without being exposed to unacceptable or excessive risk of harm.

Hormonal contraceptives are highly effective medicines for preventing unintended pregnancy and are associated with many important health benefits (e.g. reduced menstrual disorders; reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers; avoidance of risks associated with unplanned pregnancy). These benefits far outweigh the risks in most women.

All medicines and medical devices have side effects, but it can be difficult to predict which individuals may be at risk. It is also important to recognise that some symptoms experienced whilst using a contraceptive may not be side effects caused by the product.

In some women, hormonal contraceptives can cause side effects, most commonly headaches, mood alterations and breast tenderness. However, rare cases of venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the veins especially in the legs and lungs), arterial thromboembolism (blood clots in arteries e.g. heart attack or stroke) may occur. Full details of possible side effects with all contraceptives are available in the product information. This comprises the patient information leaflet (PIL) which is provided with each pack of medicine or by health care providers, and the Summary of medicinal Product Characteristic (SmPC) which contains information intended for health care professionals. The product information for all UK medicines, including contraceptives can be viewed on the electronic medicines compendium (eMC). www.medicines.org.uk/emc

When women request hormonal contraception, their individual risk factors for known serious side effects are assessed. If they are especially at risk of serious side effects, then alternative methods of contraception associated with a lower risk of harm for the woman will be recommended.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care responsible for ensuring the safety, quality and effectiveness of medicines and medical devices. The MHRA keeps the safety of all medicines and medical devices, including contraceptives under close and continual review. If any new important safety issues are identified, appropriate regulatory action will be taken and communicated to healthcare professionals and patients alike. One way the MHRA monitors the safety of medicines in everyday use is through the UK’s spontaneous adverse drug reaction (ADR) reporting system, namely the Yellow Card Scheme. If a woman experiences side effects with a contraceptive method (including any possible side effects not listed in the PIL) they should talk to their doctor or pharmacist. Side effects can be reported directly to the MHRA via the Yellow Card Scheme website: www.mhra.gov.uk/yellowcard. By reporting side effects, people can help provide more information on the safety of medicines and medical products.

The NIHR works with a broad range of stakeholders including researchers, clinicians, public health and social care professionals, policymakers, patients, carers and the public to prioritise topics for research. NIHR programmes work with evidence users at the individual, organisational and national level advised by the NIHR Prioritisation Committees to identify topics of sufficient importance to fund through specific calls for research. The MHRA are part of this process and are able to raise research issues relating to patient safety in our committees. The safety of contraception has been extensively studied but in the event that a need for additional evidence on safety is identified the MHRA will raise this with the NIHR.

Department of Health and Social Care

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/333932)

Other parliamentary business

Original Government response

A range of effective contraceptive options are available, but advantages and risks must be balanced for each individual. Applications for further research into contraceptive options are welcomed.

A range of contraceptive options are available to women including some that contain hormones (hormonal contraceptives). Hormonal contraceptives can contain combinations of estrogens and progestogens e.g. combined contraceptive pill, skin patch or vaginal ring. Other hormonal contraceptives contain progestogen alone e.g. the progestogen only pill (or mini-pill), contraceptive injections, implant and intra-uterine hormone releasing devices (hormone coils). Contraceptives that don’t contain hormones include intra-uterine copper coils and barrier methods that physically prevent sperm and egg from meeting, e.g. diaphragms (caps), spermicides and condoms. In addition to these options, surgical sterilisation by means of an operation may be an appropriate and acceptable option for some women.

Contraceptive options for men currently consist only of condoms. Male sterilisation, through a surgical procedure known as a vasectomy, may be appropriate and acceptable for some men. Any new contraceptive options developed for men would need to meet the same standards of quality, effectiveness and safety as for female contraceptives.

The suitability of all available contraceptive options for each individual woman needs to be considered in the context of her medical history, lifestyle and personal circumstances. The contraceptive method offered or advised aims to ensure the woman realises the benefits of effective contraception without being exposed to unacceptable or excessive risk of harm.

Hormonal contraceptives are highly effective medicines for preventing unintended pregnancy and are associated with many important health benefits (such as reduced menstrual disorders; reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers with long-term use; avoidance of risks associated with unplanned pregnancy). These benefits far outweigh the risks in most women.

All medicines and medical devices have side effects, but it is often difficult to predict which individuals may be at risk, or when side effects may occur. It is also important to recognise that some symptoms experienced whilst using a contraceptive may not be side-effects caused by the product.

In some women, hormonal contraceptives can cause side effects, most commonly headaches, mood alterations and breast tenderness. However, rare cases of venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the veins especially those of the legs and the lungs), arterial thromboembolism (blood clots in arteries e.g. heart attack or stroke) may occur. Full details of possible side effects with all contraceptives are available in the product information. This comprises the patient information leaflet (PIL) which is provided with each pack of medicine or by health care providers, and the Summary of medicinal Product Characteristic (SmPC) which contains information intended for health care professionals including doctors and pharmacists The product information for all UK medicines, including contraceptives can be viewed on the electronic medicines compendium (eMC). www.medicines.org.uk/emc

When women request hormonal contraception, their individual risk factors for known serious side effects are assessed. If they are especially at risk of serious side effects, then alternative methods of contraception associated with a lower risk of harm for the woman will be recommended.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care responsible for ensuring the safety, quality and effectiveness of medicines and medical devices. The MHRA keeps the safety of all medicines and medical devices, including contraceptives under close and continual review. If any new important safety issues are identified, appropriate regulatory action will be taken and communicated to healthcare professionals and patients alike. One way the MHRA monitors the safety of medicines in everyday use is through the UK’s spontaneous adverse drug reaction (ADR) reporting system, namely the Yellow Card Scheme. If a woman experiences side effects with a contraceptive method (including any possible side effects not listed in the PIL) they should talk to their doctor or pharmacist. . Side effects can be reported directly to the MHRA via the Yellow Card Scheme website www.mhra.gov.uk/yellowcard. By reporting side effects, people can help provide more information on the safety of medicines and medical products.

Department of Health and Social Care

This response was given on 9 September 2020. The Petitions Committee then requested a revised response, that more directly addressed the request of the petition.