A study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants may be the most effective methods of contraception when compared to the pill, the patch and vaginal rings. These findings may impact the pharmaceutical marketing of birth control.
About half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, totaling 3 million unintended pregnancies every year, according to the researchers. An unplanned pregnancy may negatively impact several aspects of a woman's life, including her physical health and educational attainment. Furthermore, the health of the baby may also be at risk.
The researchers estimate that half of unintended pregnancies are the result of contraception failure.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of various birth control methods, the team of scientists conducted a study that included more than 7,500 female subjects between the ages of 14 and 45. All participants received education about the risks and benefits of various forms of contraception: IUD, implant, birth control pills, patch, ring and contraceptive injection. Afterward, healthcare providers offered the subjects a choice of which method to use over the course of three years.
Researchers conducted telephone interviews at three months, six months and every six months thereafter.
At the end of the study period, 334 women became pregnant. Nearly 160 of these cases were the result of contraception failure. More pregnancies occurred among subjects who used birth control pills, the patch or vaginal rings, compared to patients who used IUDs and implants.
One possible explanation for this is that the effectiveness of birth control pills is contingent on an individual remembering to take them every day.
Other results showed that participants younger than 21 had almost double the rate of unintended pregnancies as older women.
"We know that IUDs and implants have very low failure rates - less than 1 percent," said lead author Brooke Winner, M.D. "But although IUDs are very effective and have been proven safe in women and adolescents, they only are chosen by 5.5 percent of women in the United States who use contraception."