WarningsIf any of the conditions/risk factors mentioned below is present, the benefits of COC use should be weighed against the possible risks for each individual woman and discussed with the woman before she decides to start using it. In the event of aggravation, exacerbation or first appearance of any of these conditions or risk factors, the woman should contact her physician. The physician should then decide on whether COC use should be discontinued.
Circulatory Disorders Epidemiological studies have suggested an association between the use of COCs and an increased risk of arterial and venous thrombotic and thromboembolic diseases such as myocardial infarction, deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and of cerebrovascular accidents. These events occur rarely.Epidemiological studies have shown that the incidence of VTE in users of oral contraceptives with low oestrogen content (<50 µg ethinylestradiol) ranges from about 20 to 40 cases per 100,000 women-years, but this risk estimate varies according to the progestogen. This compares with 5 to 10 cases per 100,000 women-years for non-users. The use of any combined oral contraceptive (COC) carries an increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) compared with no use. The excess risk of VTE is highest during the first year a woman initially starts using a COC or when she restarts COC use after a pill-free interval of at least a month. This increased risk is less than the risk of VTE associated with pregnancy, which is estimated as 60 cases per 100,000 pregnancies. VTE is fatal in 1-2 % of the cases. The overall absolute risk (incidence) of VTE for levonorgestrel containing combined oral contraceptives with 30 µg ethinylestradiol is approximately 20 cases per 100,000 women-years of use. Epidemiological studies have also associated the use of combined COCs with an increased risk for myocardial infarction, transient ischaemic attack and for stroke.Extremely rarely, thrombosis has been reported to occur in other blood vessels e.g. hepatic, mesenteric, renal, cerebral or retinal veins and arteries, in COC users. There is no consensus as to whether the occurrence of these events is associated with the use of COCs.Symptoms of venous or arterial thrombotic/thromboembolic events or of a cerebrovascular accident can include: • unusual unilateral leg pain and/or swelling• sudden severe pain in the chest, whether or not it radiates to the left arm• sudden breathlessness• sudden onset of coughing• vertigo• collapse with or without focal seizure• weakness or very marked numbness suddenly affecting one side or one part of the body• motor disturbances• 'acute' abdomen.Symptoms of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) can include: unilateral swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg; pain or tenderness in the leg which may be felt only when standing or walking, increased warmth in the affected leg; red or discolored skin on the leg. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) can include: sudden onset of unexplained shortness of breath or rapid breathing; sudden coughing which may bring up blood; sharp chest pain which may increase with deep breathing; sense of anxiety; severe light headedness or dizziness; rapid or irregular heartbeat. Some of these symptoms (e.g. shortness of breath, coughing) are non-specific and might be misinterpreted as more common or less severe events (e.g. respiratory tract infections). An arterial thromboembolic event can include cerebrovascular accident, vascular occlusion or myocardial infarction (MI). Symptoms of a cerebrovascular accident can include: sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden, severe or prolonged headache with no known cause; loss of consciousness or fainting with or without seizure. Other signs of vascular occlusion can include: sudden pain, swelling and slight blue discoloration of an extremity; acute abdomen. Symptoms of MI can include: pain, discomfort, pressure, heaviness, sensation of squeezing or fullness in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone; discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, arm, stomach; fullness, indigestion or choking feeling; sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness; extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath; rapid or irregular heartbeats. The risk for venous thromboembolic complications in COCs users increases with:• increasing age• a positive family history (venous thromboembolism ever in a sibling or parent at a relatively early age). If a hereditary predisposition is suspected, the woman should be referred to a specialist for advice before deciding about any COC use.• prolonged immobilisation, major surgery, any surgery to the legs, or major trauma. In these situations it is advisable to discontinue the pill (in the case of elective surgery at least four weeks in advance) and not to resume until two weeks after complete remobilisation. • obesity (body mass index over 30 kg/m²).• there is no consensus about the possible role of varicose veins and superficial thrombophlebitis in the onset or progression of venous thrombosis.The risk of arterial thromboembolic complications or of a cerebrovascular accident in COC users increases with:• increasing age• smoking (women over 35 years should be strongly advised not to smoke if they wish to use an COC)• dyslipoproteinemia• hypertension• migraine• valvular heart disease• atrial fibrillationThe increased risk of thromboembolism in the puerperium must be considered (for information on Pregnancy and lactation see Section 4.6);Other medical conditions which have been associated with adverse circulatory events include diabetes mellitus, systemic lupus erythematosus, haemolytic uraemic syndrome, chronic inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis) and sickle cell disease.An increase in the frequency or severity of migraine during COC use (which may be prodromal of a cerebrovascular event) may be a reason for immediate discontinuation of the COC.Biochemical factors that may be indicative of hereditary or acquired predisposition for venous or arterial thrombosis include Activated Protein C (APC) resistance, hyperhomocysteinaemia, antithrombin III deficiency, protein C deficiency, protein S deficiency, antiphospholipid antibodies (anticardiolipin antibodies, lupus anticoagulant).When considering risk/benefit, the physician should take into account that adequate treatment of a condition may reduce the associated risk of thrombosis and that the risk associated with pregnancy is higher than that associated with low-dose COCs (< 0.05 mg ethinylestradiol).
Tumours An increased risk of cervical cancer in long-term users of COCs has been reported in some epidemiological studies, but there continues to be controversy about the extent to which this finding is attributable to the confounding effects of sexual behavior and other factors such as human papilloma virus (HPV).Some epidemiological studies have indicated that long-term use of COCs may further contribute to this increased risk but there continues to be controversy about the extent to which this finding is attributable to confounding effects, e.g., cervical screening and sexual behaviour including use of barrier contraceptives.A meta-analysis from 54 epidemiological studies reported that there is a slightly increased relative risk (RR = 1.24) of having breast cancer diagnosed in women who are currently using COCs. The excess risk gradually disappears during the course of the 10 years after cessation of COC use. Because breast cancer is rare in women under 40 years of age, the excess number of breast cancer diagnoses in current and recent COC users is small in relation to the overall risk of breast cancer. These studies do not provide evidence for causation. The observed pattern of increased risk may be due to an earlier diagnosis of breast cancer in COC users, the biological effects of COCs or a combination of both. The breast cancers diagnosed in ever-users tend to be less advanced clinically than the cancers diagnosed in never-users. In rare cases, benign liver tumours and even more rarely, malignant liver tumours have been reported in users of COCs. In isolated cases, these tumours have led to life-threatening intra-abdominal haemorrhages. A liver tumour should be considered in the differential diagnosis when severe upper abdominal pain, liver enlargement or signs of intra-abdominal haemorrhage occur in women taking COCs.
Other conditions Women with hypertriglyceridemia, or a family history thereof, may be at an increased risk of pancreatitis when using COCs. Although small increases in blood pressure have been reported in many women taking COCs, clinically relevant increases are rare. However, if a sustained clinically significant hypertension develops during the use of a COC then it is prudent for the physician to withdraw the COC and treat the hypertension. Where considered appropriate, COC use may be resumed if normotensive values can be achieved with antihypertensive therapy. The following conditions have been reported to occur or deteriorate with both pregnancy and COC use, but the evidence of an association with COC use is inconclusive: jaundice and/or pruritus related to cholestasis; gallstone formation; porphyria; systemic lupus erythematosus; haemolytic uremic syndrome; Sydenham's chorea; herpes gestationis; otosclerosis-related hearing loss, depression. In women with hereditary angioedema, exogenous oestrogens may induce or exacerbate symptoms of angioedema. Acute or chronic disturbances of liver function may necessitate the discontinuation of COC use until markers of liver function return to normal. Recurrence of cholestatic jaundice and/or cholestasis related pruritus which occurred first during pregnancy or previous use of sex steroids necessitates the discontinuation of COCs. Although COCs may have an effect on peripheral insulin resistance and glucose tolerance, there is no evidence of a need to alter the therapeutic regimen in diabetics using low dose COCs (containing < 0.05 mg ethinylestradiol). However, diabetic women should be carefully monitored, particularly in the early stage of COC use.Worsening of crohn's disease and of ulcerative colitis has been reported during COC use. Chloasma may occasionally occur, especially in women with a history of chloasma gravidarum. Women with a tendency to chloasma should avoid exposure to the sun or ultraviolet radiation while taking COCs. Each coated tablet of this medicinal product contains 33 mg lactose per tablet. Patients with rare hereditary problems of galactose intolerance, the Lapp lactase deficiency or glucose-galactose malabsorption who are on a lactose-free diet should take this amount into consideration.Herbal preparations containing St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) should not be used while taking Microlite due to the risk of decreased plasma concentrations and reduced clinical effects of Microlite (see 4.5 Interactions).
Medical examination/consultation Prior to the initiation or reinstitution of COC use, a complete medical history and physical examination should be taken guided by the contraindications (Section 4.3) and warnings (section 'Warnings') and should be repeated periodically and pregnancy must be ruled out. Periodic medical assessment is also of importance because contraindications (e.g. a transient ischaemic attack, etc.) or risk factors (e.g. a family history of venous or arterial thrombosis) may appear for the first time during the use of a COC. The frequency and nature of these assessments should be based on established practice guidelines and be adapted to the individual woman but should generally include special reference to blood pressure, breasts, abdomen and pelvic organs, including cervical cytology. Women should be advised that oral contraceptives do not protect against HIV infections (AIDS) and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Reduced efficacy The efficacy of COCs may be reduced in the event of e.g. missed tablets (section 'Management of missed tablets'), vomiting or diarrhoea (section 'Advice in case of gastro-intestinal disturbances') during tablet taking or concomitant medication (Section 4.5).
Reduced cycle control With all COCs, irregular bleeding (spotting or breakthrough bleeding) may occur, especially during the first months of use. Therefore, the evaluation of any irregular bleeding is only meaningful after an adaptation interval of about three cycles.If bleeding irregularities persist or occur after previously regular cycles, then non-hormonal causes should be considered and adequate diagnostic measures are indicated to exclude malignancy or pregnancy. These may include curettage. In some women withdrawal bleeding may not occur during the tablet-free interval. If the COC has been taken according to the directions described in Section 4.2, it is unlikely that the woman is pregnant. However, if the COC has not been taken according to these directions prior to the first missed withdrawal bleed or if two withdrawal bleeds are missed, pregnancy must be ruled out before COC use is continued.