Numerous epidemiological studies have been performed to determine factors that might contribute to the development of inflammatory bowel disease. Although the role of oral contraceptive agents in Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) have been assessed, most studies were of small sample size and characterised by low statistical precision. A meta-analysis was performed to increase the statistical power and to investigate the association between the use of oral contraceptives and the development of CD and UC. The study was based on a search of a Medline database from 1975 to October 1993 and a review of reference lists from published articles, reviews, symposia proceedings, and abstracts from major gastrointestinal meetings. All studies specifically designed to evaluate this association were selected. The combined results of nine studies--two cohort studies (30,379 unexposed and 30,673 exposed patients) and seven case-control studies (482 CD, 237 UC, and 3198 controls)--which satisfied our selection criteria were evaluated. The pooled relative risk (adjusted for smoking) associated with oral contraceptive use was 1.44 (1.12, 1.86) for CD and 1.29 (0.94, 1.77) for UC. These results suggest modest associations between the use of oral contraceptives and the development of CD and UC. As these associations are weak, non-causal explanations for the findings cannot be eliminated.
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