Birth Control Side Effects
Making the decision to go on birth control isn’t one that’s taken lightly. When you’re faced with a myriad of options, the research can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, we at YourDrugs.com do the research on all of the birth control options available to give you the most comprehensive overview on the market.
Birth control is a broad category that encompasses several products including pills, IUDs, shots and patches. The type that you use is a personal preference, usually determined through trying out different brands and types until you find one that works well for you.
It’s necessary to visit a doctor in order to get a prescription. However, thanks to advancing technology, you can sometimes do a doctor’s visit online with a qualified physician who will then prescribe a method that you both agree is best.
You can opt to change the birth control method as often as you like with a simple visit to your gynecologist.
Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe birth control pills as a means of regulating your hormones for other purposes. For instance, it’s widely used to treat severe acne in both teens and adults.
For some, this provides the relief that other medications cannot.
Additionally, your doctor may prescribe birth control to help with menopause and endometriosis, a painful condition where the uterine tissue grows outside the uterus instead of inside.
While hormonal birth control is highly effective at preventing pregnancy, it is important to note that they do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
How Does Birth Control Work?
The primary purpose of all birth control is ultimately the same: to prevent pregnancy. To do this, they emit the hormones naturally found in a woman’s body: estrogen and progesterone, or a combination of both.
The presence of these hormones both thicken the cervical mucus and halt ovulation. The thickened mucus slows down the sperm, making it more difficult to travel.
Halting ovulation means that the sperm that does make its way to the fallopian tubes has no egg to fertilize.
Birth control pills are an oral contraceptive, typically taken at the same time each day. They’re administered in either 28- or 91-day packs, depending on the brand you take and how frequently you desire having your period.
Most brands result in monthly menstruation, but there are some that provide a consistent dosage of pills that results in having only four periods a year.
An IUD is a long-term form of birth control that lasts between 3 and 12 years. Most brands contain hormones, with the exception of the copper IUDs.
Unlike pills which release the hormones into your bloodstream, IUDs only release it locally. In other words, it only releases hormones in your uterus. Because they’re placed in your cervix, they tend to result in very light or no periods at all during the duration that you wear them.
The shot, known as Depo-Provera, is injected once every three months and contains progestin. Patches, on the other hand, are worn for a week at a time in specific places, including the upper arm, upper torso, stomach or buttocks area.
You’ll replace the patch each week for three weeks, foregoing the fourth week to bring on your period.
What Are Some Common Birth Control Side Effects?
The side effects associated with birth control depend on the method you choose, as well as the hormone dosage. Some brands release more hormones than others and thus, it’s possible to experience more or stronger side effects.
Some of the common side effects that you can expect with hormonal birth control methods include:
- Weight gain
- Spotting between your periods
- Lighter periods
- Sore breasts
- Mood swings
- Itching or skin irritation (for patch users)
These are extremely normal to experience and many women will, especially at the beginning. Over time, however, the effects should subside. If you don’t feel relief within the first few weeks of taking the medication, it might not be the one for you.
Are the Side Effects Immediate?
The timeline for side effects varies depending on the person. Some experience no side effects at all, while others feel sick immediately after receiving the dose.
Still others feel side effects within a few days or weeks after starting birth control. Since each person is unique, listen to your doctor’s warnings and contact them if you feel that your side effects are extreme.
Rare Birth Control Side Effects
All medications come with a risk of rare side effects and birth control is no exception. If you experience any of these reactions, it’s advised to call your doctor immediately or visit the emergency room if your doctor is unavailable.
- Blot clot – including deep vein thrombosis
- Gallbladder disease
- Heart attack
- Irregular or absence of periods
- Difficulty breathing
- Blindness in or pain when moving your eyes
In very rare cases, they can cause tumors that warrant immediate concern. When it comes to any of these rare side effects, your doctor may advise that you discontinue the birth control method, and potentially discontinue use of birth control altogether since they all tend to have the same hormones, with the exception of copper IUDs.
It should be noted that birth control methods with estrogen can lead to higher risks for heart attacks, blood clots and strokes in those who smoke. This is especially true for women over the age of 35, which is why your doctor may recommend a lower dose of estrogen or one that avoids it altogether.
Additionally, the patch is known to release up to 60 percent more estrogen than birth control pills, so it’s not typically prescribed for women who are at an increased risk for rare side effects.
More Serious Birth Control Side Effects
In addition to common and rare adverse reactions, there are also side effects that tend to be more serious and may warrant a visit to your gynecologist. These include, but are not limited to:
- High blood pressure
- Intense head pain, including migraines
- Weight gain or loss
- Skin that’s sensitive to the sun
- Periods that are heavier or longer than usual
- Reduced interest in sexual intercourse
- Yeast infections
- Yellow-brown skin patches
Because these conditions can be difficult to live with, you may opt to stop taking your birth control, but be sure to also notify your physician of the reactions you have and your ultimate decision to discontinue the medication.
Are There Long-Term Side Effects or Harm Caused by Birth Control Use?
Birth control methods are generally considered safe to take as long as there are no underlying conditions that can cause adverse reactions. However, most doctors do not recommend taking hormones for extended periods of time, typically exceeding 5 years.
It’s meant to be a short-term solution to preventing pregnancy during the years in which women do not wish to conceive.
When taken long-term there is the concern that the prolonged exposure to the hormones can lead to increased risk of cancer, namely breast and cervical, as it may be linked to stimulating the growth of cancer cells. However, it’s also been linked to reducing the risk for other types of cancer, including endometrial and ovarian.
There have been some reports of IUDs coming loose and ending up lodged in the cervix, uterus and sometimes even the stomach. In the event that surgery is required, this type of birth control can lead to permanent damage and sometimes even infertility.
Efficacy for Preventing Pregnancy
When taken properly, most birth control methods give you a very high percentage, up to 99 percent efficacy rate when it comes to preventing pregnancy. However, drug interactions which are discussed further below, can reduce the efficacy rate, so it’s important to use another form of contraceptive such as condoms and/or spermicide.
The one that is likely to be the most forgotten is the pill because it has to be taken every day. IUDs remain in place for years, patches last a week and the shot is effective for 3 months at a time.
Is Birth Control Right for you?
Birth control is a personal decision, but it also involves a lot of medical factors. If you’re at risk for the more serious and rare side effects brought on by the use of hormonal contraceptives, it may be a good idea to avoid them altogether.
However, if your body adapts well and you have no underlying illnesses or conditions that can affect the way the hormones react, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of their availability.
When To Consult Your Doctor/OBGYN
There are a few times during the course of your birth control treatment that you may need to contact your doctor. One is if you decide that you want to change your method, switching from pills to the shot, for example.
If you feel that the side effects are making you too sick and you’re not able to function, call your physician to discuss the symptoms you’re experiencing. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and having peace of mind goes a long way when you’re dealing with any type of medication.
If you decide to stop your birth control altogether, you may decide to follow up with your gynecologist and let them know about your decision. However, there are no adverse effects to stopping when you want to, and there’s no need to wean off.
With an IUD, you’ll need to have it removed at your doctor’s office, but you can stop taking pills, getting the shot and applying the patch when you feel it’s best for you to do so.
Risks of Birth Control
The benefits of birth control tend to far outweigh the risks, though there are some associated with the use. Because everyone reacts differently, your side effects may differ from that of your friends or family members who may be on similar methods.
If you’re concerned about the risks, talk to your doctor before you start any method so they can talk with you about your specific concerns and help ease your mind.
Do Not Take Birth Control If:
While they are considered generally safe, there are some situations when birth control should be avoided.
It’s never a good idea to take birth control while you’re pregnant, though if you become pregnant while you’re taking it, stopping immediately is often enough to prevent any detrimental effects.
If you’re at an increased risk of clotting or stroking, or you’ve experienced these issues in the past, your doctor will not prescribe hormonal contraceptives because it affects your level of estrogen which can trigger an occurrence.
If you have or have had breast or endometrial cancer, as well as liver tumors or disease, it’s a good idea to stick with non-hormonal solutions. You should also avoid any type of hormonal contraceptives if you’ve had a medical history of diabetes, severe headaches, heart disease or chest pain.
Breastfeeding women should opt for progestin-only birth control pills as the estrogen levels can reduce the milk supply. IUDs and the shot are still viable options for nursing moms.
Birth Control Interactions
There are specific medications that may interact with birth control. Some are brand specific, while others are universal such as antibiotics and some anti-seizure medications. These two types of medications tend to reduce the efficacy of the birth control, so it’s important to let your doctor know if you’re on anti-seizure medications before you start.
When you’re on antibiotics, in order to prevent pregnancy, it’s a good idea to use condoms until you’ve finished your prescription and a few days beyond to be safe.
What Other Preventative Methods or Treatments Are There?
If birth control medications cause undesired effects or you’re unable to take them, you still have options. Spermicide and condoms are two very popular methods of helping to prevent pregnancy.
Women can also get fitted for a diaphragm which is inserted up to 18 hours before sex. It’s used in combination with spermicide for maximum effectiveness.
However, it’s only up to 88 percent effective as opposed to the 99 percent that hormonal contraceptives offer and it requires a prescription.
There are surgical options as well. If you’re done having children or do not desire to have them, you can opt for a tubal ligation or a vasectomy. These decisions shouldn’t be made lightly, however. While they can be reversed, it is not always possible or effective.
How Many Cycles of Birth Control Should You Try Before Moving On?
Because your body needs time to adjust to any new medication, you should try your birth control method for at least three months. However, if your symptoms are severe, you might be sensitive to the hormones and it’s okay to stop if they make you seriously ill.
Talk with your doctor and see if there’s a different solution with lower hormone levels.
If you’re using birth control treatment for acne and you’re not seeing relief after two or three months, it may be time to explore different solutions.