Oral contraceptives account for 12.6% of all contraceptives used in the US. Annually, almost 65% percent of women aged between 51 to 49 use some form of contraception, and oral contraceptives rank as the second most commonly used. While various reasons are attributed to the preference, there are possible side effects from combination pills. The benefits outweigh the side effects, yet it is important to be fully aware of all the side effects of birth control pills. Additionally, it is also important to know about the right usage to ensure that the pills offer the desired results. Here is a detailed look at oral contraceptives.
Why are oral contraceptives preferred and what are the side effects of birth control pills?
Of the many reasons that make oral contraceptives a good choice, the primary reason is the reliability. The next best reason is the reversible nature of the contraception. Unlike certain procedures that make it irreversible, oral contraceptives are simple, permitting normalisation of fertility shortly after the pills are stopped. Additionally, there are other benefits from pills – lets take a look at these benefits before delving deeper into the side effects of birth control pills.
Women who take oral contraceptives are known to experience positive results in resolving acne. Additionally, women who suffer from dysmenorrhea, commonly known as menstrual cramps experience a reduction in the intensity of the cramps. Similarly, women get considerable relief from symptoms that are associated with PMS (premenstrual syndrome. As a result of the combination pills women also experience a reduction in androgen levels that are typically attributed to polycystic ovary syndrome.
As mentioned above, the benefits outweigh the side effects of birth control pills and this includes the following. Women on the pill get the benefit of lesser annual periods, and for some women, the periods are more predictable in nature. Additionally, the periods are also known to be of a shorter duration and with lesser intensity. Apart from these benefits, women are also exposed to lesser risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. These conditions are attributed to other reasons and the use of the pill is known to have appositive impact. This impact also extends to ectopic pregnancy, benign breast disease and ovarian cysts. Finally, women experience a reduction in conditions that arise from iron-deficiency anaemia.
Are there possibilities of the pill failing?
Unfortunately, the answer to the above question is “YES” for a limited percentage of women. Statistics reveal that failure rates are 9% for women who take combination pills for the first time. In other words, during the first year of taking the pill, the possibility of failure of the pill is around 9 percent. However, when the pill is taken as per directions, and after the first year, the chances of failure drop to 1 percent. Before we dwell on the side effects of birth control pills, here’s an overview of oral contraceptives.
What are oral contraceptives and what are the side effects of birth control pills?
Oral contraceptives are basically a combination of estrogen and progestin. The pills work by preventing the ovaries from releasing the egg. Additionally, the pills also bring about changes in the cervical mucus and the uterus lining. These changes prevent the sperm from combining with the egg, thereby preventing conception. While the mechanism of action of oral contraceptives are the same, the dosages differ. Various formulations have different doses of estrogen/progestin. It is important to seek medical advice before choosing a specific combination birth control pill. Depending on the type of formulation chosen, it is possible to cut down the number of periods that a woman may have had without oral contraceptives. For instance, extended cycle oral contraceptives will cut down the total number of periods experienced annually. Before we look at the side effects of birth control pills, here is a look at the different types of pills presently available.
A typical set of birth control pills will comprise active pills as well as inactive pills. There is a reason behind this combination. A conventional pack, for instance contains a total of 28 pills, out of which 21 are active, while 7 are inactive. The pills are taken for a cycle of 28 days, beginning with the active pills and ending with the inactive pills during the last seven days. The whole idea of inactive pills is to ensure that the cycle is maintained correctly. Other possible combinations include a total of 24 active pills and 4 inactive pills. Women will experience bleeding during the last week of the month, when on the inactive pills.
The next option is the use of extended cycle pills that comprise a total of 91 pills. This includes 84 active pills and 7 inactive pills. Women who choose this option experience bleeding only during the seven days, when on the inactive pills. This method helps reduce the number of periods typically experienced annually, with women experiencing bleeding only four times annually. This option is also available in a 365-pill combination, where the woman is expected to take a pill every single day. In most of the cases, women may experience a complete halt to periods, while for others a lighter intensity in periods are generally reported.
Are the pills suitable for all women?
Oral contraceptives are not suitable for all categories of recipients. The side effects of birth control pills are heightened in some categories while in others the side effects are lessened. It is therefore necessary to understand the possible effects of high-risk categories and avoid the same. For instance, women aged more than 35 years with the habit of smoking are advised to not take the pills. Women who are nursing infants and are breast feeding are also advised to stay off the pill – this is generally restricted to women in the first month of nursing babies. Additionally, women with certain medical conditions are also considered as unsuitable for using oral contraceptives. For instance, high blood pressure that has not been brought under control through medication, heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, and liver disease are all conditions that make women unsuitable for taking the pill. Similarly, women with excessive uterine bleeding, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and those who have been bed-ridden as a result of major surgery are also advised to avoid the pill. Patients with neuropathy, retinopathy or nephropathy that is linked to diabetes are advised to stay off oral contraceptives.
Mandatory practices required for best results
There is a clear need to prevent side effects of birth control pills and to ensure optimized results. To achieve this, it is necessary to follow certain mandatory practices. For instance, the pill needs to be taken every day, Skipping the pills or missing out on the schedule including the inactive pills can remove the effectiveness of the pills in preventing pregnancies. Women are advised to fix a routine of taking the pill at the same time every single day, and improvise methods to ensure that the pills are taken daily. Women who have tried and failed to follow this routine of taking the pill daily, may then look at other options for birth control.
Possible side effects of birth control pills
It is now time to look at the possible side effects of birth control pills. The mechanism of action of oral contraceptives results in an alteration of hormone levels of the recipient and this results in possible side effects. In most instances, the side effects are known to resolve within 3 months, but in some cases, the side effects are known to remain for longer periods. Whenever the side effects do not resolve naturally, or when the intensity is higher or when the side effects persist, it is important to seek medical advice. This may be necessary to either look at a different combination/dosing of oral contraceptives, or an altogether different type of birth control method. This will hep prevent or overcome the side effects of birth control pills. Commonly reported side effects of oral contraceptives include the following.
Visible indications of sensitivity in the breasts
Among the side effects of birth control pills, the easily visible indications are tenderness in the breasts. This typically occurs immediately after the individual starts taking the pills. The best method to cope with this issue is to wear a bra that offers the right kind of support. Additio0nally, women may also experience an increase in the size of the breasts. This is attributed to the hormones that cause sensitivity as well as increase in size. When the sensitivity turns painful or if lumps are felt in the breasts, it is necessary to seek medical advice.
Sudden increase in weight that is not tributed to other reasons
Women on birth control pills are also known to experience a sudden increase in weight. This is attributed to the mechanism of action of the pills that result in fluid retention. As a result of this, women end up with weighing heavier. Apart from an increase in weight, there is also a possible increase in fat and muscle mass. Here, it is important to note that side effects of birth control pills could be either an increase in weight or a reduction in weight. Research is ongoing and yet inconclusive about the impact of hormonal changes on weight.
Menstrual bleeding between periods
Another side effect of oral contraceptives is the possibility of menstrual bleeding between periods. This atypical bleeding that is commonly known as spotting or breakthrough appears different from usual menstrual bleeding. For instance, the bleeding is light in nature with a brown discharge. This happens to be one of the most common side effects of birth control pills and is attributed to the sudden change in hormonal levels and the resultant change in the body. As a result of this change, the uterus ends up with a thinner lining and this causes the bleeding. The best method to cope with this side effect is to stick to the routine of taking the pills daily.
Changes in vision through a thickening of the cornea
The manifestation of side effects includes a thickening of the cornea. While the thickening of the cornea may not have any direct impact on vision, the impact is experienced by individuals wearing contact lenses. The thickening makes contact lenses ill-fitting and consequently there this could affect vision. The remedy for this side effect is a readjustment or change in contact lens.
Unexplained increase in frequency of migraine, headaches
Other side effects of birth control pills include an unexplained increase in the frequency of headaches and migraine. This depends on the actual dosage and the combination of the oral contraceptives. Birth control pills with low dosages may have a lesser effect while pills with higher dosages may have an increased impact. On the3 positive side, women who experience migraine due to PMS will experience a reduction in the intensity and frequency, when on oral contraceptives. Therefore, the pill delivers a good effect for some while for others it could be an adverse effect.
Emotion amplification and mood swings
Hormones have a direct impact on emotions and certain hormones are known to have an emotional amplification effect. A change in the hormonal levels is therefore known to cause a relative/proportionate change in the mood of the individual. Women are known to enter a cycle of depression as a result of taking oral contraceptives. The best method to overcome these side effects of birth control pills is to seek medical advice and if necessary, look at changing the combination/dosage.
Loss of interest in sex
Other side effects of birth control pills include a sudden loss of interest in sex. This is attributed to the changes in the hormones. However, the effects of the pill may have different results on different individuals. Some may actually find themselves more inclined to indulge in sex, as the apprehensions about unwanted or unplanned pregnancies fade. Additionally, women find PMS to be a great spoilsport when it comes to sex, and oral contraceptives help tackle PMS effectively, thereby helping women overcome this issue.
Vomiting and nausea when on the pill
One of the common side effects of the pill is nausea and vomiting. This is typically experienced by women who take the pill the first time. While the condition is known to resolve naturally, there are methods to help ease the condition. For instance, women are advised to take the pill before hitting the bed, or along with food. This will help mitigate the condition. When nausea is experienced all the time, it is advised to seek medical attention.
Irregular, infrequent periods
Other common side effects of birth control pills include irregular, infrequent or missed periods. Women may experience periods that are light in nature and in some cases, there is a possibility of missing the periods altogether. This is attributed to the hormones in the pill. While it is normal for women to end up with missed periods in between, it is necessary to seek medical advice or opt for a pregnancy test. This is due to the possibility of the oral contraceptives being used wrongly, ending up in pregnancies.
Foul smelling discharge from the vagina
The possibility of discharge from the vagina exists as a result of the pill. The effects of oral contraceptives include a decrease in vaginal lubrication/increase in vaginal lubrication. Consequently, women experience an impact – this could be an inability to indulge in sexual activities as a result of vaginal dryness. This could also result in a discharge from the vagina that is foul smelling and colored. Women who experience this increase in discharge that is either colored or foul smelling need medical attention.
Risks associated with birth control pills
Birth control pills could pose health hazards for women, that could be either short term in nature or long term in nature. For instance, among the side effects of birth control pills, the possibility of blood clots exists. This condition is not common, but rare and impacts individuals with certain pre-existing conditions. Individuals who experience any indication of side effects, need to seek medical assistance at the earliest. For instance, individuals with severe pain in the abdomen, blurred vision, or a sudden swelling in the lower limbs need to approach healthcare providers. Other symptoms that are indications of possible side effects include shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and headaches that are intense.
While oral contraceptives are designed to be taken forever, without very serious side effects, there are possible long term side effects of birth control pills. For instance, women may experience certain cardiovascular issues, or could cause certain types of cancer. Here, it is important to understand that in some instances, women on the pill may actually end up with reduced risk of cancer. In other words, the effects differ from person to person – with some experiencing good effects, while others end up with adverse effects. The safest option is to seek medical advice, take the pill daily, and look out for any sudden changes or symptoms. On observing any indications, women are advised to seek medical attention.