Methods We used the Optimum Patient Care Research Database, a population-based, longitudinal, anonymised primary care database in the UK, to construct a 17-year (1 January 2000–31 December 2016) retrospective cohort of reproductive-age (16–45 years, n=83 084) women with asthma. Using Read codes, we defined use, subtypes and duration of use of hormonal contraceptives. Severe asthma exacerbation was defined according to recommendations of the European Respiratory Society/American Thoracic Society as asthma-related hospitalisation, accident and emergency department visits due to asthma and/or oral corticosteroid prescriptions. Analyses were done using multilevel mixed-effects Poisson regression with QR decomposition.
Results The 17-year follow-up resulted in 456 803 person-years of follow-up time. At baseline, 34% of women were using any hormonal contraceptives, 25% combined (oestrogen/progestogen) and 9% progestogen-only contraceptives. Previous (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 0.94, 95% CI 0.92 to 0.97) and current (IRR 0.96, 95% CI 0.94 to 0.98) use of any, previous (IRR 0.92, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.97) and current use of combined (IRR 0.93, 95% CI 0.91 to 0.96) and longer duration of use (3–4 years: IRR 0.94, 95% CI 0.92 to 0.97; 5+ years: IRR 0.91, 95% CI 0.89 to 0.93) of hormonal contraceptives, but not progestogen-only contraceptives, were associated with reduced risk of severe asthma exacerbation compared with non-use.
Conclusions Use of hormonal contraceptives may reduce the risk of severe asthma exacerbation in reproductive-age women. Mechanistic studies investigating the biological basis for the influence of hormonal contraceptives on clinical outcomes of asthma in women are required