Safety of Estrogens in Lupus: Birth Control Pills

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NYU Langone Health

Status and phase

Phase 3


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus


Drug: Ortho-Novum 777

Study type


Funder types



U01 AR42540 NIAMS-028B
U01AR042540 (U.S. NIH Grant/Contract)

Details and patient eligibility


Safety of Estrogens in Lupus Erythematosus - National Assessment (SELENA) is a study to test whether women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) can safely use estrogen. We will determine this by looking at the effects of oral contraceptives (birth control pills, also known as "the pill") on disease activity and severity in women with SLE. The results of the study will show whether it is safe for women with SLE to use the pill.

Full description

This study tests the effect of exogenous female hormones on disease activity and severity in women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Physicians generally do not prescribe oral contraceptives (OCs) to women with lupus because of the widely held view that these drugs can activate SLE. This practice is based on the greater incidence of SLE in women than in men, biologic abnormalities of estrogen metabolism, murine models of lupus, several anecdotes of patients having disease flares while receiving exogenous hormones, and a single retrospective study in patients with preexisting renal disease. By contrast, recent retrospective studies suggest that the rate of flare is not significantly increased in patients taking OCs. The preexisting data is insufficient to warrant the dismissal of a potentially important birth control option in a disease that predominantly affects women in their reproductive years and whose fertility is not altered by the disease. Moreover, the use of OCs to preserve fertility in patients taking cyclophosphamide and the use of estrogens to prevent coronary artery disease and postmenopausal and steroid-induced osteoporosis are timely considerations. We will attempt to define, in a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the effect of OCs containing low-dose synthetic estrogens and progestins on disease activity in women with SLE. Because the research hypothesis is that OCs do not increase the risk of flares, we have designed the study to be able to detect minimal increases in the rate of flares in patients taking OCs. We will enroll patients with inactive, stable, or moderate disease requiring less than 0.5 mg prednisone per kg of bodyweight per day over a 2-year period and randomize them to receive birth control pills or placebo pills for 12 months. During that time, the patient must use condoms or a diaphragm as birth control. We will recruit patients from clinics and private practices that include over 4,000 women with SLE, most belonging to minority groups.




18 to 39 years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • Female
  • Unequivocal diagnosis of SLE
  • Inactive disease or be stable on 0.5 mg/kg/day or less of predisone
  • Must be between 18 and 39 years old if non-smoker
  • Must be between 18 and 35 years old if smoker

Exclusion criteria

  • Blood pressure >145/95 on three occasions
  • Deep vein, arterial thrombosis or pulmonary embolus
  • GPL >40; MPL >40; APL >50; dRVVT >37 sec
  • APL antibody syndrome ever
  • Gynecologic or breast cancer
  • Hepatic dysfunction or liver tumors
  • Diabetes mellitus (NOT due to steroids) with vascular disease
  • Congenital hyperlipidemia
  • Complicated migraine
  • Severe disease activity (SLEDAI >12)
  • Increase in SLEDAI >2 points in 3 months
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Use of estrogen (OCP) for >1 month at any time after SLE diagnosis
  • Present pregnancy
  • Angina or MI due to APS
  • Age >35 yrs. for smokers; >39 yrs. for nonsmokers

Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Single Group Assignment


Double Blind

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from

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