Birth control pills, also known as contraceptive pills, are primarily used to prevent pregnancy, however, they are also prescribed to help with acne, endometriosis, migraines, ovarian cysts, and PMS.
While side effects from birth control pills exist, they can vary for each individual, and they can also differ according to the type of contraceptive pill taken.
Read on to learn more about the main side effects of birth control pills, what you can do to relieve them, and a natural alternative to treat acne, migraines, PMS, and heavy, painful, or irregular periods.
How Do Birth Control Pills Work?
Birth control pills contain hormones that can regulate menstruation, prevent fertilization from occurring, and make it more difficult for any fertilized eggs to attach to the wall of the womb where they would typically grow.
There are two types of contraceptive pills and how fertilization is prevented differs depending on the type of pill taken.
Different Types of Birth Control Pills
The two types of birth control pills are combination pills and the mini-pill, however, there are also various strengths available within the two categories.
Combination pills contain estrogen and progestin (a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone) and prevent pregnancy in three ways. First, the combination of estrogen and progestin work together to regulate menstruation and stop ovulation from occurring.
Secondly, the hormones cause the cervical mucus to thicken, making it more difficult for sperm to pass through, and thirdly the hormones from the pill cause the lining of the womb to thin, making it harder for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus wall.
The mini-pill, on the other hand, contains progestin only and it does not stop ovulation from occurring. However, the two ways that it prevents pregnancy are by thickening the cervical mucus at the neck of the womb and thinning the lining of the womb to make it more difficult for a fertilized egg to grow.
If you are considering taking birth control pills, speak with your doctor to understand which type is best for you.
Why Are the Main Side Effects of Birth Control Pills?
The side effects of birth control pills and the severity with which they are experienced can vary from woman to woman and depend on the type of pill taken.
Although many women find that the side effects disappear within three months, for others they can linger to the point of disrupting their life. Below we’ve outlined the ten most common side effects of contraceptive pills and what you can do to relieve them.
1. Spotting or Light Vaginal Bleeding
Spotting is the most common side effect of taking birth control pills and is described as light bleeding or brown vaginal discharge between menstrual cycles. Spotting occurs when the body is adapting to different levels of hormones and when the uterus lining is thinning to prevent gestation.
Taking birth control pills at the same time every day will usually help the body to adjust and stop spotting, however, if it doesn’t cease after three months, make an appointment to see your doctor about a different dose or contraceptive alternative.
2. Breast Changes & Tenderness
Starting with birth control pills can often cause the breasts to swell a little bigger and breast tenderness is also common. This is normally due to hormonal changes and water retention.
Wearing a supportive sports bra for the first few weeks can help with the tenderness, but if it does not subside, or it becomes pain rather than tenderness, speak with your healthcare provider. It’s also important to report any breast lumps that emerge after starting with birth control pills.
3. Mild Nausea
Many women feel mild bouts of nausea after starting with contraceptive pills, but it normally subsides within a few weeks. Ensuring that you don’t take your daily pill on an empty stomach helps, but if nausea persists all day, or if mild nausea lingers for longer than three months, speak with your doctor about lowering the dose of your birth control pills.
4. Mood Swings
Because hormones and their fluctuations are directly related to our emotions, some women notice more ups and downs when it comes to their moods after starting with birth control pills. In fact, a recent study centered around one million women found a substantial link between depression and contraceptive pills.
If you notice that you’ve become moodier or less energetic about life since taking the pill, contact your doctor about coming off the pill, or trying a different type or a lower dose.
5. Headaches & Migraines
Studies have shown that the hormones contained in birth control pills can either increase or decrease the likelihood of headaches and migraines. Women who are prone to headaches associated with PMS, for example, are known to experience fewer headaches, whereas women who rarely have headaches could experience more when taking birth control pills.
If you notice an increase in headaches since starting the pill, speak with your doctor about alternative options.
6. Weight Gain or Weight Loss
According to research, contraceptive pills can lead to weight gain for some women and weight loss for others. Although more research is needed to understand why, it is believed that the hormones in birth control pills result in fluid retention for some women, whereas the hormones act like a diuretic for others, causing them to lose water weight.
Should you notice that you are gaining or losing a lot of weight after starting the pill, make an appointment to speak with your doctor about it.
7. Vaginal Discharge & Vaginal Dryness
When it comes to vaginal discharge and birth control pills, it can vary with each individual. Some women experience more vaginal lubrication while it reduces for others and results in vaginal dryness or atrophy. An increase in vaginal discharge is a harmless side effect as long the discharge remains clear or white and is not accompanied by a foul odor, both of which could indicate an infection.
If vaginal dryness occurs, natural water-based lubrication can be used to enjoy sexual intercourse, but if it persists after three months, it’s best to speak with your doctor.
8. Lowered Sex Drive
The hormones contained in birth control pills are known to lower some women’s libido. If this is something that you notice, speak with your doctor about trying a lower dose of the pill or changing to an alternative type of contraceptive. On the other hand, taking birth control pills can improve sex drive for some women.
Studies surmise that this increase in libido is more than likely related to how birth control pills can relieve symptoms associated with endometriosis, fibroids, PMS, and ovarian cysts.
9. Very Light Menstruation & Missed Periods
Due to the hormones in birth control pills, it’s fair to say that menstruation while taking the pill is not technically a real period. Without oral contraceptives, it is the thickened uterus lining that sheds during menstruation once it is not needed to grow a fertilized egg.
But the hormones ingested with the pill cause the uterus lining to thin instead, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant. When this thinner uterus lining sheds, it is known as a withdrawal bleed instead of a period.
While it is normal for women to miss one or two periods when taking birth control pills, pregnancies can still happen, so it’s best to take a pregnancy test if you’ve missed more than two periods on the pill.
Other reasons for missed periods, whether taking oral contraceptives or not, include stress, travel, hormonal changes, thyroid issues, and underlying conditions.
10. Cornea Swelling
As mentioned above, the hormonal changes associated with the pill can cause the body to retain water. As well as making the breasts a little bigger, and causing weight gain for some women, this water retention can also result in swelling of the corneas.
While it is not harmful in any way, it might mean that contact lenses feel uncomfortable. If you have started birth control pills and have noticed that your contact lenses no longer feel comfortable, contact your optometrist for advice.
Birth Control Pills & Serious Side Effects
Although serious side effects from taking contraceptive pills are rare, the estrogen in combination pills has been known to increase the risk of blood clots, hypertension, and cancer. Therefore, women who smoke, are aged 35 and over, or have a history of breast or endometrial cancer are not advised to take oral contraceptives.
Side Effects of Coming off Birth Control Pills
When women start birth control pills, some side effects can be experienced as their body takes a few months to adjust to the release of extra hormones in the body. Similarly, when women come off birth control pills and the extra hormones are no longer being released into the body, it will once again take some time for the body to adjust.
Interestingly, similar symptoms are felt in both cases. The menstrual cycle might change when women stop taking the pill, symptoms associated with PMS might emerge, breasts can become tender, mood swings might be more prevalent, as well as weight fluctuations, acne, headaches, and increased or decreased sex drive.
Managing PMS & Migraines Without Birth Control Pills
If persisting side effects from the pill mean that your healthcare provider advised you to stop taking it, and you are looking for something to soothe migraines or PMS symptoms, a natural herbal remedy called Chasteberry could be helpful.
Also known as vitex, chasteberry is a natural supplement from Intimate Rose that comes highly recommended by female health experts to treat migraines, acne, cramping, heavy or irregular periods, mood swings, stress, insomnia, and fatigue associated with PMS.
Irrespective of what type of birth control pill you take, mild side effects can occur but they usually subside within two to three months of starting to take the pill.
Should any of the above-mentioned side effects linger for more than three months, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to understand why and discuss options.
Planned Parenthood – Birth Control - https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control
Planned Parenthood – What are The Disadvantages of The Pill? - https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill/what-are-the-disadvantages-of-the-pill
WebMD - Birth Control & Breast Size - https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/birth-control-breast-size
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