Scientific publications

Neuropsychological side effects of combined hormonal contraceptives for the treatment of mild symptoms. Bioethical assessment of its adequacy

Oct 1, 2022 | Magazine: Cuadernos de Bioética

Regina Cárdenas Santos  1 , José María Pardo Sáenz  2


Since the beginning of the commercialization, in 1960, of combined estrogen-progestin hormonal contraceptives (CHCs), their use has become widespread for other non-contraceptive indications: dysmenorrhea, irregular cycle length, hypermenorrhea and acne, among others (Lete, 2009; Barranco, 2016).

In all cases, these are mild pathologies or minor symptoms for which there are effective therapeutic alternatives. Millions of women in the world receive this treatment, which acts by inhibiting the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian hormonal axis (HHO Axis), the central axis and regulator of the entire sexual and reproductive physiology of women.

Despite the existence of an enormous number of women subjected to this inhibition (ACHs are currently used by some 214 million women around the world, with an annual market of close to 18 billion dollars), very little research has been done on the consequences of suppressing the HHO axis. Only in recent years, and in parallel to the demonstration of the existence of functional receptors for gonadotropins at different levels in the central and peripheral nervous systems, have publications on the neuropsychological effects of HCAs begun to appear.

It is also striking that, despite being the most widely used drugs and for the longest time for the treatment of functional gynecological disorders, their use is outside the technical data sheet (i.e., they are used for purposes other than those listed in the official indication approved in their technical data sheet and which appear in the package insert).

Although the use of these hormonal products causes a wide variety of side effects, which have been widely studied in the medical literature, the present study proposes, after an exposition of the different aspects of the use of HCAs, a detailed review of the available literature on the neuropsychological effects due to the annulment of the HHO axis. This in order to, after a biological analysis, subsequently establish whether there is an ethical appropriateness in the use that concerns us.

CITATION  Cuad Bioet. 2022 Sep-Dec;33(109):335-348.  doi: 10.30444/CB.137