When Taking Rx Safely Means Taking Birth Control Seriously

Birth control knowledge could promote safer use of acne medications like Accutane and Claravis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For people with severe acne, prescription medication can work when cleansers and ointments fail. Some of those medications, however, can lead to problems if the patient becomes pregnant.

A new study looked at how to increase knowledge of birth control methods to promote safe use of an acne medication called isotretinoin, which can cause birth defects. When women read information sheets on birth control, they were able to better identify which methods were most effective.

“A contraceptive information sheet can significantly improve patients’ contraceptive knowledge and may be a useful addition to efforts to prevent isotretinoin-induced birth defects,” wrote study lead Carly A. Werner, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues.

These researchers said doctors should make sure women know how to prevent pregnancy if their acne medication may cause birth defects.

Isotretinoin (brand names Accutane, Claravis and more) is used to treat severe acne in people who don’t respond to other treatments.

Female patients who use isotretinoin are also advised to use birth control because isotretinoin is known to cause birth defects. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires women taking the medication to pledge to use two forms of birth control to prevent unsafe pregnancies.

For this study, 100 women visiting a dermatologist answered surveys that tested their knowledge of birth control effectiveness.

Dr. Werner and team found that 75 percent of women overestimated how effective condoms typically were, and 51 percent overestimated the typical effectiveness of the pill.

Also, 34 percent of women had never heard of contraceptive implants like Implanon, while 16 percent did not know what an IUD was. An IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device) is a device inserted into the uterus that can prevent pregnancy.

After the first survey, the women were given an information sheet on birth control methods and tested once more. On average, women spent less than a minute looking at the birth control information.

After reviewing the information, the women’s ability to identify the typical effectiveness of the birth control methods improved significantly. The percentage of women who answered correctly for IUDs increased from 61 percent to 83 percent. That number rose from 25 percent to 45 percent for condoms.

In an editorial published with this study, Marie C Leger, MD, PhD, of New York University, said patients often face an overwhelming amount of information at the doctor’s office.

“Contraceptive education needs to be incorporated into the patient encounter in such a way that it is prioritized,” Dr. Leger wrote.

Dr. Leger added, “Because multiple studies closely link women’s contraceptive knowledge with their contraceptive use, increasing patient knowledge should lead to more effective contraceptive choices."

The study and editorial were published Feb. 4 in JAMA Dermatology.

A grant from the FDA funded this research. Dr. Werner and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
February 3, 2015
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015