Common Side Effects Of Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills, often referred to as oral contraceptives are a type of hormonal contraception, widely consumed by nearly 12 million American women each year. The pill assists in controlling the birth rate upon adequate consumption. Not taking the pill at set time duration can lead to unwanted pregnancy. These pills may be classified into two categories, the combination pills consist of both synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormone whereas progestin only pills, also called mini pills, consist of only progesterone hormone.
These pills are also taken for other following indications as well:
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Regular menstrual cycle
- Premenstrual syndrome PMS
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder PMDD
- Prevention of endometrial and ovarian cancer
What Are Common Side Effects Associated With Birth Control Use?
Given below are the common side effects of birth control pills:
- Intermenstrual spotting: Breakthrough bleeding is moderate to significant vaginal bleeding that almost 50% of the women on the pills experiences between expected periods. It is more frequent during the first 3 months of the pill intake. The pill is likely to remain effective despite the spotting (or vaginal bleeding) provided that the doses are correctly taken and not missed.
- Nausea: Nausea may be a common symptom for the first timers but it disappears within a short period or by taking the pill with the food.
- Enlargement or tenderness of breasts: This is yet another common side effect of birth control pills that subsides within days. Salt and caffeine intake can promote breast tenderness so it is suggested to reduce the intake during active use.
- Headache: The intensity of headache may differ due to different dosing and types of pills. Pills with minimum hormone doses are less likely to cause headaches.
- Weight gain: Birth pills may increase fluid retention in the hip and breast areas. The synthetic estrogen present in the pills may also affect the size of fat cells.
- Mood swings: Depression and mood swings are also experienced by women on the birth control pills. A study revealed that birth control pills have a connection with smaller measurements of cortical thickness in the posterior cingulate cortex and lateral orbitofrontal cortex, areas responsible for evaluation of stimuli and reward response.
- Irregular menstrual cycle: Regardless of proper dosage and intake, some women may skip or miss a period when on birth control pills. Contributing factors may include: thyroid or hormonal abnormalities, traveling, illness and stress.
- Diminished libido: Synthetic hormones in the pills may affect the libido in some women whereas in other case it may also increase libido by alleviating menstrual cramps, PMS and symptoms associated to uterine fibroids and endometriosis.
- Vaginal discharge: The pill may even affect the vaginal discharge by increasing or decreasing the lubrication, alternating the vaginal discharge nature and by causing other changes that may affect sexual life.
- Visual changes: Fluid retention caused by birth pills may result into swelling of cornea or change in its shape.
Due to these many side effects, people opt for other contraceptive modes which include:
- Vaginal ring
- Contraceptive injections
- Contraceptive implants
- Intrauterine devices
- Gallo, M. F., Lopez, L. M., Grimes, D. A., Carayon, F., Schulz, K. F., & Helmerhorst, F. M. (2014). Combination contraceptives: effects on weight. The Cochrane Library.
- Petersen, N., Kilpatrick, L. A., Goharzad, A., & Cahill, L. (2014). Oral contraceptive pill use and menstrual cycle phase are associated with altered resting state functional connectivity. Neuroimage, 90, 24-32.