Hormonal contraception and obesity

Despite obesity-related changes to contraceptive steroid hormone metabolism, effectiveness of most contraceptive methods is not compromised, and otherwise healthy obese women can safely use all methods of contraception.

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Volume 106, Issue 6, Pages 1282-1288


Katharine B. Simmons, M.D., M.P.H., Alison B. Edelman, M.D., M.P.H.


The rising rate of overweight and obesity is a public health crisis in the United States and increasingly around the globe. Rates of contraceptive use are similar among women of all weights, but because contraceptive development studies historically excluded women over 130% of ideal body weight, patients and providers have a gap in understanding of contraceptive efficacy for obese and overweight women. Because of a range of drug metabolism alterations in obesity, there is biologic plausibility for changes in hormonal contraception effectiveness in obese women. However, these pharmacokinetic changes are not linearly related to body mass index or weight, and it is unknown what degree of obesity begins to affect pharmacokinetic or pharmacodynamics processes. Overall, most studies of higher quality do not demonstrate a difference in oral contraceptive pill effectiveness in obese compared with non-obese women. However, data are scant for women in the highest categories of obesity, and differences by progestin type are incompletely understood. Effectiveness of most non-oral contraceptives does not seem to be compromised in obesity. Exceptions to this include the combined hormonal patch and oral levonorgestrel emergency contraception, which may have lower rates of effectiveness in obese women. The purpose of this review is to summarize evidence on contraceptive use in women with obesity, including differences in steroid hormone metabolism, contraceptive effectiveness, and safety, compared with women of normal weight or body mass index using the same methods.

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Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility┬« is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.