Are you in the process of evaluating which method of birth control is right for you? The birth control pill is one of the most popular methods of preventing pregnancy because it is one of the most effective. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) states that only about 1% of women who take the pill as prescribed have an unexpected pregnancy.
Like any medication, though, there are side effects. It’s important that you consider your personal and family medical history, along with your own health goals, before deciding to go on the birth control pill. Similarly, you may decide the pill is the right form for now, but that something else may be better as you approach age 35 and beyond.
Remember: The pill DOES NOT protect you from contracting sexually transmitted diseases, so always pair it with a condom when you are having sex in a new partner and/or in a non-monogamous relationship.
7 Potential Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill
There are different types of pills. Some use varying doses of synthetic estrogen and progesterone, others use only progesterone. You may find that changing pill types will help alleviate some of the lesser-desirable side effects.
Before we go into the potentially harmful side effects associated with the pill, let’s discuss some of the more positive benefits:
- More manageable periods. If you tend to have irregular periods, heavier periods or spotting in between periods, the pill can help. By manually adjusting your reproductive hormone levels, it helps to get your body into a more predictable rhythm. This also help to relieve the side effects of PMS, such as cramping, breast tenderness, migraines, moodiness and bloating.
- Say farewell to acne. Do you suffer from acne? Testosterone levels are partially responsible for the amount of oils secreted by the sebaceous glands. Increasing estrogen levels can help to balance that, alleviating acne as well as other potential side effects of elevated testosterone such as facial hair.
- Can control side effects of endometriosis or PCOS. We often prescribe the birth control pill for women diagnosed with PCOS or endometriosis. Since the pill regulates their hormone levels, it can also regulate the side effects of these conditions and others, including the development of ovarian cysts, breast cysts or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
- Lowers certain cancer rates. The data shows us that taking the birth control pill lowers your risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancer. We used to think that it increased chances of developing cervical cancer. Now medical experts think it’s the increased sexual activity experienced by women on the pill that elevates their risk of HPV and ultimately increases cervical cancer rates.
Once you start taking the pill – pay attention to your body. You may notice certain changes and they could indicate that you are experiencing some of the lesser desirable side effects of the pill. These include:
- Blood clots. One of the more dangerous side-effects of taking the pill is blood clots. They are most common in women who smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues or in women who are 35-years old or older. That being said, it’s a very rare side-effect, occurring in only about 7 of every 10,000 women who take the pill. To put it in perspective, you are significantly more prone to developing blood clots during pregnancy or labor. If you’re on the pill and experience a swollen leg or chest pain, stop taking the pill and contact your doctor.
- Libido. Unfortunately, some women find that taking hormonal birth control negatively affects their sex drive. The good news here is that not all birth control is considered equal. Some patients experience low libido via pills, but not the shot. Other experience it from the shot but not the pill. Others never experience it at all. Switching forms may be the solution here.
- Breakthrough bleeding. While the pill can put a halt to your own systems irregular spotting and bleeding, it can cause the same problem for others. The good news is that this is most common during the first three-months of use, and will diminish once your system has adjusted. As long as you’re taking the pill at the same time each day, you are still pregnancy-proof.
- Headaches and nausea. Darn it! While some women find relief from menstrual migraines when they take the pill. Others find the pill makes them more prone to headaches. In most cases, this means the hormone dose is too high. Switching to a different pill, with lower hormone doses, will probably do the trick. If you seem to get nauseous from the pill, try taking it with food and/or at bedtime.
- Reduced breastmilk production. Elevated estrogen levels can decrease breastmilk production. If you’re breastfeeding (good for you!), it’s important that you ask for progesterone-only pills (also called the mini-pill).
- Weight gain. This is a funny one; while science has had a hard time correlating birth control use and weight gain, women have notoriously noticed weight-related side effects that diminish once they’re off the pill. We think this is actually due to the fluid retention that can occur – specifically in the breast and hip areas. Also, increased estrogen can increase the size of existing fat cells, even if it doesn’t increase their numbers.
- Mood swings. Again, while the pill can regulate PMS-related symptoms for some, it can exacerbate them in others. Mood swings are an example of this. One recent study shows a correlation between taking the pill and a limiting of the brain’s reward centers, but more research needs to be done. If you have a history of depression, or if you experience depression while on the pill, the pill may not be the best birth control option for you.
There is no one-size fits all form of birth control. A healthy relationship with your OB/GYN is your best tool for figuring out which method is right for you. Contact Women’s Health Associates who is dedicated to working with our patients to achieve overall well-being.
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