Lupus patients safe to go back on the pill

Two new studies confirm that women who suffer from lupus, a chronic disease that can lead to inflamed kidneys, can safely take oral contraceptives without fear that the pill will worsen their condition.

The studies dispel the common belief that the oral contraceptive worsened the condition, which discouraged doctors from prescribing the pill, forcing many female lupus patients to opt for less convenient contraceptives or even abortion.

Michelle Petri, chief author of one study, says they were shocked to discover that once someone has established lupus, contraceptives are not bad for them.

She says the research has shaken up the whole notion of what is contributing to lupus in the first place.

Lupus is caused by the body's immune system turning on itself, affecting the skin, kidneys, joints and blood.

Up to 1.5 million people in the United States have some form of lupus and over 16,000 Americans develop the long-term illness every year.

Because nine times more women than men have lupus, it is suspected hormones may play a role.

There has been concern that birth control pills might cause symptoms of the disease to worsen.

Petri of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says generations of doctors have not prescribed oral contraceptives to lupus patients, and all were wrong.

Petri's study found that a severe lupus flare-up was just as likely to occur in the 91 women who received an oral contraceptive containing estrogen and progesterone as in the 92 who got a placebo.

Also the rates of mild or moderate flares were the same in both groups.

In all of the women, the disease was stable.

The other study involved 162 Mexican volunteers and also found that the flare-up rate and the severity of the flare-ups was the same whether patients got standard birth control pills, a progestin-only pill, or a copper intrauterine device (IUD) to ward off pregnancy.

The studies are published in the current edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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