If you are someone who is looking for a birth control option, you must have come across a number of products. Be it condoms, pills, intrauterine devices, diaphragm, vaults, cervical cups, hormonal injections, or sterilization (surgical methods), each one has its own pros and cons and you need to choose the method which is most suitable for your needs.
Here, we shall discuss the advantages & risks of one of the most popular contraceptive options - Oral birth control pills.
The birth control pills have been in use for more than 50 years now & when taken properly, as advised by the doctor, they have been reported to be about 99% effective and quite safe for most women.
Why do you need a birth control pill?
The main purpose of birth control pills is, of course, to prevent pregnancy but many women also use them for the health advantages that they provide.
Birth control pills are prescribed for various reasons apart from contraception. They are useful for the treatment of various conditions including
- Irregular periods.
- Heavy menstrual bleeding ie excessive bleeding during periods.
- Painful periods & dysmenorrhoea.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
- PCOS symptoms like excess facial / body hair, scalp hair loss & acne.
- Benign, functional ovarian cysts.
Thus, the health benefits include correction of hormonal imbalance & associated problems, prevention of anaemia, and certain cancers like ovarian cancer & Endometrial cancer.
What is more, they are simple & convenient to use
They do not interfere with the sexual act, do not require taking painful injections or undergoing an invasive insertion into the uterine cavity by a healthcare professional.
What is a birth control pill?
A birth control pill is a combination of the artificial preparations of the female hormones –Estrogen & Progesterone.
When taken consistently every day, pills can be 99% effective as a birth control option to prevent pregnancy.
They can be of two types
- Combined pills – Containing Estrogen & Progestin (Combined OCP).
- Progestin-only Pill (POP).
Different types of birth control pills
There are mainly two types of birth control pills available to prevent pregnancy
- Combination pills - these contain both oestrogen and progestin in a fixed combination.
- Progestin-only pills - commonly called mini-pills, these contain progestin-only. They are a safer option for women who need to avoid estrogen preparations for eg those women who are breastfeeding or have a history of blood clots or stroke.
You can find a number of options to choose from, like a 21-day birth control pill, 90-day birth control pill, or even 365 days of active birth control pills. On average, a woman has to take three active pills a week and non-active pills the remaining days but it all depends on the brand you are using and the dosage required to control the pregnancy.
Always start a birth control pill only after evaluation & advice by a qualified doctor who can decide which is the best option for you.
How Do Birth Control Pills Prevent Pregnancy?
The combination of estrogen-progestin or progestin-only is used to inhibit ovulation i.e release of an egg from the ovary.
So a woman cannot get pregnant if there is no egg to be fertilized by the sperms entering the genital tract after intercourse.
Both Combined pills & Progestin-only pills prevent pregnancy by the following mechanisms
- Inhibiting the ovulation process (release of an egg from the ovary every month).
- Making the uterine lining thinner, thus interfering with the process of implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.
- They make the cervical mucus thicker & inhibit the entry of the sperms through the cervix into the uterus.
Who cannot take the birth control pill?
Although birth control pills are a very safe option for contraception and are very commonly used to prevent a pregnancy, there are some conditions in which these pills are not considered advisable & are contraindicated.
Avoid using the combination birth control pills if
- You suffer from any heart problems like stroke, angina, or heart attack.
- Have severe migraine headaches.
- High blood pressure which is uncontrolled.
- Suffering from diabetes.
- Liver infection or disease.
- You have breast cancer.
- You have a history of Deep Vein Thrombosis ( formation of blood clots in your veins).
- Are over the age of 35 and smoke.
If you are someone who vapes, then you should consult a doctor before using combination pills.
If you are a smoker and looking for something right for your body to choose from birth control pills then you should go for progestin-only pills.
Avoid the progestin-only pills if you have
- Have breast cancer.
- Kidney disease.
- Infection in the liver or other liver diseases.
- Cancer of breast, ovarian, uterine, endometrial, or cervical.
- Insufficiency of Adrenal gland.
It’s always a good idea to take a consultation from an expert doctor before starting any birth control pills. They will go through your health history and will help you decide the right pill that will not cause any health risk to your body.
Risks & side effects of using a birth control pill
Using pills as a birth control measure is a very popular option because it provides convenient, effective, economical & reversible contraception.
But that doesn’t mean that it cannot cause any health problems. There are some known complications associated with the use of the pills. Though the complications are very rare, still one needs to be aware of these before starting the pills. The problems caused by combination pills include
- Blood clots.
- Raised blood pressure.
- Liver dysfunction & tumors.
- In severe cases, death.
- Heart attack.
In contrast to the combination pills, progestin-only pills do not show any side effects and are considered safer for women in whom combined pills are harmful. However, the Progestin-only pills may sometimes cause
- Irregular bleeding.
- Mood swings.
- Breast tenderness/enlargement.
- Small cysts in ovaries.
Please note that the above-mentioned complications are very rare and birth control pills are a reliable & safe option for most people.
In a study, it was shown that an unwanted pregnancy will cause you more health problems than any birth control pill.
To avoid these complications, it is important to consult a doctor who can help you to choose the safest option for you.
It is also important to note that there are still a few chances of getting pregnant while regularly on birth control pills. Also, if you accidentally take pills in the early stages of pregnancy, you should not worry because this will not affect your pregnancy in any terms.
Signs of complications while using birth control pills
Many women who take pills as a contraceptive method may feel minor side effects or health problems that are not serious & usually settle down within the first few weeks of use. Nevertheless, it is always a smart option to understand the changes in your body and raise an alarm in case of any unusual symptoms.
You should immediately see a doctor if you see any of the following changes in your body
- Discomfort or Severe pain in the chest.
- Unbearable soreness in your limbs.
- Swelling, redness, or pain in your leg.
- Excessive feeling of nausea.
- Excessive sweating.
- Trouble in breathing.
- Sudden pain in the lower jaw.
- Severe pain in the stomach or lower belly.
- Sudden, very bad headache.
- Skin and eyes turning yellow.
- Visual disturbances.
- Headaches that are different, worse, or happen more often than usual.
Do birth control pills prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
Although they are a very effective method for contraception, birth control pills do not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), genital herpes, Hepatitis B, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, etc.
Sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact & the exchange of body fluids like semen, saliva, vaginal secretions, etc.
Contraceptive pills act by altering the hormonal environment & its effects on the reproductive organs but do nothing to prevent the transfer of micro-organisms between the sexual partners.
So if you are looking for an option that can help you prevent STD the best option is to choose a condom in addition to the birth control pills.
Using condoms and birth control pills together will maximize your chance to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
1. Birth control pills have some health benefits too!
As per the recent research taking birth control pills for five or more years results in lowering the risk of ovarian cancer by 20%. Moreover, it also reduces the risk of the development of endometrial cancer by 30%. However, it also increases the risk of developing cervical and breast cancers.
2. A pill may be less effective in obese or overweight women.
A morbidly overweight woman has a higher risk of getting pregnant even after using the birth control pill. However, the results of such research are inconsistent. Some of the researches resulted in a 60%-70% reduction in the effectiveness of pills and researchers found little or no effect on few outcomes.
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