10 Side Effects Of Hormonal Birth Control Every Woman Should Know | The oral contraceptive pill, commonly known as “the pill,” is a hormone-based method of preventing pregnancy. It can also help resolve irregular menstruation, painful or heavy periods, endometriosis, acne, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Birth control pills work by preventing ovulation. No egg is produced, so there is nothing for the sperm to fertilize. Pregnancy cannot occur.
“The pill” is used by nearly 16 percent of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States, and it has both advantages and disadvantages. People with different risk factors may be advised to use a particular kind of pill.
There are different types of contraceptive pills. They all contain synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, or both. Synthetic progesterone is called progestin. Combination pills contain progestin and estrogen. The “mini pill,” contains only progestin.
Monophasic pills all contain the same balance of hormones. With phasic pills, two or three different types of pill are taken each month, each with a different balance of hormones.
Another option is “everyday pills” and “21-day pills.” A pack of everyday pills lasts 28 days, but seven of the pills are inactive. The everyday pill may be easier to use correctly, as the routine is the same every day.
Used correctly, the pill is highly effective, but because people make mistakes, 6 to 12 pregnancies in every 100 are thought to occur each year while using it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the failure rate for both types of pill at 9 percent.
Birth control pills do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Only a condom can help prevent this type of infection.
10 Side Effects Of Hormonal Birth Control Every Woman Should Know
Common side effects of oral contraceptives include:
- intermenstrual spotting
- breast tenderness
- headaches and migraine
- weight gain
- mood changes
- missed periods
- decreased libido
- vaginal discharge
- changes to eyesight for those using contact lenses
We will look at each of these side effects in detail below.
1. Intermenstrual spotting
Breakthrough vaginal bleeding is common between expected periods. This usually resolves within 3 months of starting to take the pill.
During spotting, the pill is still effective, as long as it has been taken correctly and no doses are missed. Anyone who experiences 5 or more days of bleeding while on active pills, or heavy bleeding for 3 or more days, should contact a health care professional for advice.
This bleeding may happen because the uterus is adjusting to having a thinner endometrial lining or because the body is adjusting to having different levels of hormones.
Some people experience mild nausea when first taking the pill, but symptoms usually subside after a while. Taking the pill with food or at bedtime may help. If nausea is severe or persists for longer than 3 months, you should seek medical guidance.
3. Breast tenderness
Birth control pills may cause breast enlargement or tenderness. This normally resolves a few weeks after starting the pill. Anyone who finds a lump in the breast or who has persistent pain or tenderness or severe breast pain should seek medical help.
Tips for relieving breast tenderness include reducing caffeine and salt intake and wearing a supportive bra.
4. Headaches and migraine
The hormones in birth control pills can increase the chance of headaches and migraine.
Pills with different types and doses of hormone may trigger different symptoms.
Using a low-dose pill may reduce the incidence of headaches.
5. Weight gain
Clinical studies have not found a consistent link between the use of birth control pills and weight fluctuations. However, fluid retention may occur, especially around the breasts and hips.
According to one review, most studies have found an average weight gain of under 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) at 6 or 12 months with progestin-only birth control. Studies of other birth control methods showed the same gain.
Some types of hormonal contraceptive have been linked to a decrease in lean body mass.
6. Mood changes
Studies suggest that oral contraceptives may affect the user’s mood and increase the risk of depression or other emotional changes. Anyone experiencing mood changes during pill use should contact their medical provider.
7. Missed periods
Even with proper pill use, a period may sometimes be missed. Factors that can influence this include stress, illness, travel, and hormonal or thyroid abnormalities.
If a period is missed or is very light while using the pill, a pregnancy test is recommended before starting the next pack. It is not unusual for a flow to be very light or missed altogether on occasion. If concerned, seek medical advice.
8. Decreased libido
The hormone or hormones in the contraceptive pill can affect sex drive or libido in some people. If decreased libido persists and is bothersome, this should be discussed with a medical provider.
In some cases, the birth control pill can increase libido, for example, by removing concerns about pregnancy and reducing the painful symptoms of menstrual cramping, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.
9. Vaginal discharge
Changes in vaginal discharge may occur when taking the pill. This may be an increase or a decrease in vaginal lubrication or a change in the nature of the discharge. If vaginal dryness results, added lubrication can help make sex more comfortable.
These changes are not usually harmful, but alternations in color or odor could indicate an infection. Anyone who is concerned about such changes should speak with their medical provider.
10. Eye changes
Hormonal changes caused by the birth control pill have been linked to a thickening of the cornea in the eyes. Oral contraceptive use has not been associated with a higher risk of eye disease, but it may mean that contact lenses no longer fit comfortably.
Contact lens wearers should consult their ophthalmologist if they experience any changes in vision or lens tolerance during pill use.