Prolonged monitoring of ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel levels confirms an altered pharmacokinetic profile in obese oral contraceptives users

Alison B. Edelman, Ganesh Cherala, Myrna Y. Munar, Barent Dubois, Martha McInnis, Frank Z. Stanczyk, Jeffrey T. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Pharmacokinetic (PK) parameters based on short sampling times (48 h or less) may contain inaccuracies due to their dependency on extrapolated values. This study was designed to measure PK parameters with greater accuracy in obese users of a low-dose oral contraceptive (OC) and to correlate drug levels with assessments of end-organ activity. Study Design: Obese [body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kg/m2], ovulatory, otherwise healthy women (n= 32) received an OC containing 20 mcg ethinyl estradiol (EE)/100 mcg levonorgestrel (LNG) for two cycles. EE and LNG PK parameters were characterized for 168 h at the end of Cycle 1. During Cycle 2, biweekly outpatient visits were performed to assess cervical mucus, monitor ovarian activity with transvaginal ultrasound and obtain serum samples to measure EE, LNG, estradiol and progesterone levels. PK parameters were calculated and correlated with end-organ activity and compared against control samples obtained from normal and obese women sampled up to 48 h in a previous study. Standard determination of PK accuracy was performed, defined by the dependency on extrapolated values ('excess' area under the curve of 25% or less). Results: The mean BMI was 39.4 kg/m2 (SD 6.6) with a range of 30-64 kg/m2. Key LNG PK parameters were as follows: clearance, 0.52 L/h (SD 0.24); half-life, 65 h (SD 40); area under the curve (AUC), 232 h*ng/mL (SD 102); and time to reach steady state, 13.6 days (SD 8.4). The majority of subjects had increased ovarian activity with diameter of follicles ≥ 8 mm (n= 25), but only seven women had follicles ≥ 10 mm plus cervical mucus scores ≥ 5. Evidence of poor end-organ suppression did not correlate with the severity of the alterations in PK. As compared to historical normal and obese controls (48-h PK sampling), clearance, half-life, AUC and time to reach steady state were found to be significantly different (p≤.05) in obese women undergoing a longer duration of PK sampling (168 h). Longer sampling also improved PK accuracy for obese women (excess AUC 20%) as compared to both normal and obese controls undergoing shorter sampling times (48 h) with excess AUCs of 25% and 50%, respectively. Conclusions: Obesity results in significant alterations in OC steroid PK parameters, but the severity of these alterations did not correlate with end-organ suppression. A longer PK sampling interval (168 h vs. 48 h) improved the accuracy of PK testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-226
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Body weight
  • Obesity
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Pharmacokinetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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