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Women reaching 40 still need birth control

Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Upon entering middle-age and a monogamous relationship, many women eschew contraception and STD testing, thinking that now is the time for worry-free sex. However, a new study from Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a teaching hospital of Brown University, suggests that women approaching perimenopause may not want to ditch their birth control just yet.

Researchers discovered that many women approaching age 40 believe that their chances of becoming pregnant are lower than they are, and that birth control is actually bad for their health.

Common misconceptions
Researchers explained that the goal of this study was to find the best way to debunk common myths surrounding contraception for older women, and help physicians find the best contraceptive for their patient.

"Despite declining fertility, women over age 40 still require effective contraception if they want to avoid pregnancy," according to Rebecca Allen, M.D., M.P.H., of Women & Infants' Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Division of Research. "In addition, the benefits of birth control outweigh the risk. Even for women with risk factors, there are methods that can be safely used."'

The scientists added that women should continue to use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy until they are completely sure they have fully gone through menopause. Many experts recommend that even after menopause, women who are not in monogamous relationships should still continue to use condoms to prevent contracting an STD.

While condoms are the only form of contraceptive that protects against STDs, there are benefits to taking the birth control pill as well. As the researchers explained, estrogen-containing oral contraceptives can help control the heavy menstrual bleeding that can occur before menopause, and may help curb hot flashes as well. Furthermore, studies have even suggested that these contraceptives may help prevent the loss of bone density, a common problem among older women.

For all of these reasons, it's important for women approaching menopause to talk to their doctor about the need for contraceptives. While they may feel as though it is unnecessary for them to still be on the pill or using condoms, they may discover that they are wrong.

Record highs
According to an article published by MSNBC, the number of women giving birth in their 40s or 50s is higher than ever. In 2007, an estimated 105,071 women between the ages of 40 and 44 gave birth, the highest rate since 1968.

"The numbers have really skyrocketed over the last two decades, as research has increasingly shown that older women are able to carry pregnancies and deliver babies safely," Mark Sauer, M.D., chief of reproductive endocrinology at Columbia University Medical Center and a leading researcher in this field, told MSNBC.

While these statistics are great for older women who want to have a baby, they should be a word of caution for women who are not looking to get pregnant.

Regardless of whether they are looking to get pregnant or not, women of all ages who are not in a monogamous relationship should use condoms during all sexual activity to help protect themselves against STDs. They should also get blood tests regularly to check for STDs and HIV so they can get treated and reduce their risk of passing an infection or virus on to others. STDs are almost entirely preventable, as long as people take the proper precautions and use STD testing services often.

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