In a new study, researchers analyzed the data found in women's health records over four years, discovering a connection between the use of oral contraception and the contraction of multiple sclerosis.
“It’s not clear what role (hormones) play in the development of the disease, but it’s clear that two to three times more women than men have MS,” Dr. Kerstin Hellwig stated in comments on FoxNews.com.
Dr. Hellwig is the study author of the research team that conducted the analysis, which gathered membership data from Kaiser Permanente Southern California and studied the health records of 305 women aged 14 to 48 who were diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), between 2008 and 2011.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Although its causes are unclear, experts believe that genetics, environmental hazards and smoking are all possible factors in the condition, which Hellwig stated normally develops between the ages of 20 and 40.
Looking at the frequency of the women's use of birth control prior to their initial symptoms of MS, researchers found a 30 percent increase in the risk of developing the disease among women who had used oral contraceptives for at least three months, compared with a control group of 3,050 women who did not have MS.
According to Hellwig, researchers discovered in the study that 29.2 percent of women with MS had used oral contraceptives prior to their diagnoses, while only 23 percent of women in the healthy control group had used the drug, showing an increased risk of contraction with a higher use of the pill.
For women who were not currently taking oral contraceptives, but had at some point in the three years before their diagnosis, the research team also found that there was a slightly higher risk of developing the disease.
Hellwig noted that although her team only studied the data of women who had used oral contraception for at least three months rather than a lifetime exposure, she expects to see an increased risk of contracting MS with a longer usage in their final analysis.
Most of the women in their study, she observed, used the common combination of estrogen and progestin, highlighting how the group's final analysis will be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting.
Warning that this study was only a preliminary analysis, Hellwig explained that although the research points to an association between MS and birth control, they cannot firmly establish a cause.
“We say the use of birth control might explain a little bit of the increasing incidence (of MS) among women, but only to a small amount,” she said, “(We) don’t intend to mean that young women should avoid birth control to avoid MS.”