Health & Fitness

FDA looks at birth control effectiveness standards

WASHINGTON - Birth control pills could get a makeover.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to ask a panel of experts whether the pills should meet a standard of effectiveness before they're approved for sale.

The FDA says newer pills appear to be less effective at preventing pregnancy than those approved decades ago, probably because manufacturers are using lower doses of the hormones that stop ovulation.

"The very first pills were very high dose and carried risks of blood clots and cardiovascular problems that would be unacceptable to most women," said Amy Allina, program director of the National Women's Health Network. "Today, most birth control pills are very safe for the vast majority of women."

The FDA wants the experts to explain whether the benefit of improved safety outweighs a slightly increased risk of unwanted pregnancies.

Birth control statistics

• More than 60 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44 use some sort of contraception, with 11.6 million choosing birth control pills, according to a 2005 survey by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group.

• The global market for hormonal contraceptives was $5 billion in 2005, according to an estimate by U.K. research firm Piribo.