Everything you should know before taking birth control pills
Why use birth control pills?
Growth in the world population has spurred the interest in birth control by preventing pregnancy. Different birth control methods are used, e.g., condoms, birth control pills, etc... Contraceptive medications are most favoured for pregnancy control. In 2018, 28% of women in the UK aged 15-49 were using contraceptive pills. This percentage is likely to rise due to the approval of their over-the-counter availability in 2021.
They have been approved and used since the 1960s, and hundreds of millions of women worldwide have used them successfully for birth control. Is taking birth control pills safe for you? You should know their potential risks before choosing a safe contraceptive.
Are they safe?
Different types of birth control pills are available. An active pill can be;
Combined hormonal birth control pill
These combination birth control pills have both oestrogen and progesterone.
These are progestin-only pills.
But, these pills are drugs and have side effects and potential risks just like any other drugs. A safe drug gives desired effects with minimum possible side effects. So, is it safe to use contraceptive medication? To answer this, you should know their possible side effects and health risks and identify the factors that can increase their risks.
What are the risks associated with contraceptive medication?
The common risks of these medications are;
The oestrogen present in the combined pills can alter your lipid profile by decreasing the bad cholesterol ‘LDL’ and increasing the good cholesterol ‘HDL’. As a result, the total cholesterol is increased. The fasting levels of serum triglycerides can also be increased.
Progesterone exerts the opposite effects. Although these problems are easily manageable with a healthy diet and good lifestyle, the minipills seem to be a better choice.
High blood pressure
Birth control pills can increase your susceptibility to high blood pressure. A 2005 study involving 72 women taking hormonal contraceptives found that stopping the contraceptive medication was an effective therapy for high blood pressure patients. It mainly happens if you have a family history of the problem, are a smoker, or are aged. If you have a past history of blood pressure issues, don't select a pill without consulting the doctor and regularly monitor your blood pressure.
The oestrogen-containing combination pills can cause migraines. Stop taking the pill and rush to the healthcare clinic if you experience it.
The hormones in contraceptives can interfere with the clotting process. A study published in the Linacre Quarterly found that people using hormonal contraceptives have more risk of developing venous thrombosis (blood clots in veins). Blood clots can occur in the leg veins.
If these clots detach from leg veins and dislodge the lung veins, your life will be endangered. Tell your gynaecologist if you are a smoker. He will change your pill because smoking also disturbs the clotting process. Smoking can change the surface of your platelets (the cells that form clots) and make them more prone to form clots.
Several studies have found a link between long-term contraceptives and some cancers, e.g., cervical and breast cancer. Studies are still undergoing to understand its relationship with breast cancer. Current studies are giving contradictory results.
According to a study by National Cancer Institute, contraceptives increase the risk of breast cancer by 7% and cervical cancer by 10%. However, the risk of ovarian and colorectal cancer is less in users than the non-users. But this risk is reversible and fades after cessation of medication. If you have a history of breast and cervical cancer or have such problems in your family, report it to your reproductive health consultant. It will affect his choice of contraceptive for you.
The chances of heart attack increase if you have a history of other factors, e.g., smoking, advanced age and poor diet, alongside the use of contraceptives. Cardiovascular diseases also depend upon family history, persistent hypercholesterolemia and high blood pressure. It would be worthwhile to avoid smoking and regularly check your weight gain while using oral contraceptives. Use some other birth control methods if you are a heart patient.
Bleeding between the periods
Also called spotting, it is abnormal bleeding which occurs between periods. It usually happens when you start these pills for the first time and is a prevalent side effect of the birth control pills. The bleeding usually ceases as the body starts adjusting to the new levels of hormones and a thinner lining of the uterus. It's advisable to take the pills regularly. A missed pill or a prolonged gap can worsen the situation.
Your breasts may feel tender, particularly in the initial phase of the problem. Your breasts can also become more heavy and sensitive. So, if you think there are changes in breast size and more pain, immediately rush to your healthcare provider. A supportive bra can also help with tender breasts.
A birth control pill can cause psychological issues. A disturbance of hormonal levels due to contraceptives can increase mood swings and depression because your mood is a product of different hormones flowing in your blood. Some of these problems can force you to stop taking the pill.
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety and aggression, consult your physician.
Some studies link the prolonged use of contraceptives to the thickening of the cornea. The vision is usually undisturbed, but your cosmetics lenses may be challenging to adjust. If you are concerned about your cosmetics beautiful, visiting the ophthalmologist before taking the pill would be very prudent.
Decreased sexual desire
The hormonal changes due to these pills will influence your sexual desire. However, the studies on the topic have produced contradictory results. It is advised that a combination pill should be used after proper consultation.
Vaginal discharge provides lubrication during sexual intercourse. It is a product of hormones. The women having lower hormonal levels will have a disturbance of discharge.
The disturbance of hormonal levels due to hormonal contraception may cause vaginal dryness. According to a study, 3-5% of women using contraceptives may experience vaginal dryness as a side effect. The use of lubricants can however tackle this problem. If, however, you notice a change in the colour or odour of the discharge, consult your gynaecologist as it could be due to the infections.
Missing of periods
The hormones in these pills can suppress the symptoms of periods to the degree that you may not notice any periods at all. However, missed periods may be due to pregnancy (e.g., if you are using inactive pills). Other factors, e.g., thyroid problems, infections, and stress, can cause missing periods. Rule out these factors before blaming your medication.
What risk factors can exacerbate the risks?
Some risk factors can increase the intensity of side effects. It's worthwhile to check these factors for the safe use of contraceptives. These factors are;
- Heart diseases
- Inflammation and infections
- Allergic reactions
- History of painful periods
- Blood pressure problems.
Develop a habit of regularly visiting the reproductive clinic if you have a history of these problems.
Oral contraceptives have good tolerance if you are healthy. Some mild and manageable side effects can occur. If you have a history of health issues or these issues are undergoing, use these pills only under the guidance of a healthcare specialist. The use of combination pills is associated with more risks. So, consult your health consultant to shift to mini-pills.
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