Is there a connection between birth control and Crohn's disease?

Researchers found a link between using the pill and developing Crohn's disease. Should you be worried?

About 2 in 1,000 adults in the U.S. have Crohn’s disease, a long-term inflammation of the small or large intestine. Doctors don’t know for sure what causes the disease, but they know that women are more likely than men to get it. Same with smokers, people living in cities, and people with family members who have had other inflammatory bowel diseases.

Because Crohn’s disease is rare, you have to do a very large study to learn about it. There’s a study like that in the U.S.—one that kept in touch with over 200,000 nurses for more than 30 years—called the Nurses Health Study. They kept track of who developed Crohn’s disease over time and then looked back to see what health and lifestyle factors were related.

What’s related to Crohn’s disease?

This big study has shown that some things seem to protect against the disease. Women who got regular exercise or ate lots of fruit were about half as likely to develop Crohn’s. Some things seem to make it more likely to develop Crohn’s. Women who were obese as teenagers were more than twice as likely to develop Crohn’s.

The recent news is that women who had used the pill were about 40% more likely to develop Crohn’s. Forty percent sounds big, but the difference in terms of the number of women affected is tiny: 0.12% of women who’d never used the pill developed Crohn’s, compared to 0.15% of women who had used the pill.

The takeaway

The team looking at the Nurses Health Study says that the bacteria living in our guts may be the key to understanding Crohn’s disease. If you’re worried that you could be at risk for this disease, the good news is that there are birth control options that don’t affect your guts, like the ring, IUD, and barrier methods.

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