The Physical Risks Of Oral Contraceptives
Fact-Checked by: Dr. Tara Scott, OB-GYN
“Your body is a battleground.” – Feminist & Activist Barbara Kruger
In the COVID-19 times, with the shuttering of most normal daily activities, whether you have been working from home or showing up to slay it at your essential job, we've all been forced to have a collective mass reflection on the status of our health.
These enlightenments often come with a bit of pain. We want to reflect on what we've been putting into our bodies and see if it's working for us or not.
One type of medication that's often overlooked in terms of health impact is oral contraceptives.
Why shouldn’t we put our birth control under the same scrutiny as other modern-day medicines?
While not all women will have the same side effects or any at all for that matter, it is a prudent idea to know what to look out for.
As a sexually active woman, I've had my fair share of pregnancy scares. I was a bit overwhelmed while Googling various birth control side effects on my phone in the OB-GYN’s waiting room. If anyone else has ever experienced this or felt this way then this article is for you. Take notes, my queens!
What Are The Types Of Birth Control Pills?
Combination pills, or combined pills, consist of synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen and progestin. Every cycle includes active pills, ones that contain hormones, and a small number of inactive pills that do not contain hormones. Below are multiple types of combination pills:
Monophasic Pills: Each pill contains a constant amount of estrogen and progestin in every active pill. This way you'll get the same level of hormones throughout the entire pack. For the last week of your cycle, you may take no pill at all or an inactive pill to help keep track. Dubbed “the pill," this kind is the most commonly prescribed type of birth control on the market.
Biphasic Pills: These pills deliver the same amount of estrogen each day while providing a higher ratio of synthetic estrogen/progestin during the latter half of your cycle to mimic the natural fluctuations of the menstrual cycle. For 7-10 days the progestin is at a lesser strength and then for 11-14 days, the progestin is at a higher strength. This is the biggest difference between monophasic pills and biphasic pills. The pills of both phases come color-coded for your convenience.
Triphasic Pills: This type of pill administers three different doses of estrogen and progestin that change every 7 days, providing three phases. If this sounds a bit confusing don’t worry because each dose is labeled with a different color. Phase one lasts for 5-7 days. Phase two lasts for 5-9 days and phase three lasts for 5-10 days. After the three phases are complete, you take 7 days worth of inactive pills. The number of days per phase depends on which brand you choose.
Progestin-only pills (aka POPs or minipills) contain only progestin. Due to the lack of interference with your natural estrogen, these, in particular, may be prescribed if you have encountered physical side effects from other forms of hormonal birth control.
These are structurally different from some of the combination pill formulas that I have described above, in that every mini-pill in the pack is active.
What Side Effects Can Hormonal Birth Control Cause?
Monophasic, biphasic, triphasic, and progestin-only hormonal birth control all carry a similar side effect profile.
Some of the more common side effects include:
Nausea Or Vomiting
Breast Tenderness Or Pain
A Change In Body Weight
Should you encounter bleeding between periods (spotting), know that this may happen during the preliminary months of use. If it does not stop or even if it's just freaking you out, this is reason enough to talk to your doctor about switching pill types or cessation.
These medications can raise your blood pressure so it's always a good idea to check your blood pressure regularly so you can notify your OB-GYN if it gets too high.
If you experience any breast lumps, stomach pain, or dark-colored urine do not hesitate to ring your physician. Oral birth control pills also carry some risk of serious/potentially fatal side effects. These include:
Increased Blood Pressure
Risk Of Blood Clots
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Plenty of women try oral birth controls and have fantastic results, while some (like me, for the record) have been sickened from it health-wise.
Some medical predispositions, such as high-risk or previous incidence of breast or cervical cancer can make you a bad candidate for oral contraceptives.
Certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking can also increase your risk of more dangerous side effects.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that given our current state of technology, doctors are unable to accurately test you to determine the side effects you're likely to experience.
Until this changes, each patient will have to weigh the risks and benefits of oral contraceptives themselves and discuss potential contraindications with their physician.