Benefits, Risks, and Side Effects of the Pill
Women have been enjoying the benefits and advantages of the birth control pill since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 9, 1960. The pill is actually one of the most researched and studied of all medications. Most women can safely use birth control pills, but pill use may carry some risks and/or side effects.Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of using oral contraceptives, including common side effects. Read beyond the chart for more specific information.
Pros of the Birth Control Pill
- Very convenient method of contraception.
- May offer some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease (which, if left untreated, can cause infertility).
- May lead to lighter periods or help regulate periods.
- A safe birth control method.
- Birth control pills can decrease menstrual cramps.
- Allows for sexual spontaneity.
- The Pill can help you time your period—combination pills can be taken to regulate (change the timing and frequency) of your period or be used to skip your period altogether.
Noncontraceptive Benefits of Combination Birth Control Pills
Combination contraception can also provide health benefits! Birth control pills may offer you some protection against:
- Iron deficiency anemia (which can result from having heavy periods)
- Ovarian cysts
- Vaginal dryness and painful intercourse
- Non-cancerous breast growths
- Excess body hair
- Menstrual migraines
- Symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Cancer Protection and the Pill
Research suggests that women who use birth control pills are only 1/3 as likely to get cancer of the ovaries (ovarian cancer) or lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer) than those who do not.Protection against developing these cancers can last up to 30 years after stopping combination birth control pills. Plus, this protection increases with each year of use. So, if you use combination pills for 6 years, your pill use can lower your the risk of ovarian or endometrial cancer by up to 60%.The most recent research suggests that the pill has little, if any, effect on the risk of developing breast cancer. However, studies show that there is an 18 percent reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer among women who use the pill.
Cons of the Birth Control Pill
If you use birth control pills, you may experience some unwelcome side effects. The good news is that most of these side effects will go away by the second or third month of use—as your body adjusts to the progestin and/or estrogen in the pill. Birth control pill side effects may include:
- Breast tenderness
- Nausea (sometimes with vomiting)
- Bleeding between periods
Additionally, combination birth control pills could:
- Cause depression
- Change sexual desire
- Decrease your interest in watching pornography
Progestin-only birth control pills may lead to irregular spotting and bleeding (at least, more frequently than with combination pills).
You should read the paper insert that comes inside your specific pill pack for more detailed information about the use and risks of your birth control pills. Additionally, the insert should also explain when to take take your birth control pills (and what to do if you miss a pill… or two).You can take your birth control pill with an evening meal or at bedtime to help decrease nausea and/or vomiting. Try not to stop taking your pill—even if you are feeling really nauseous.
You should talk to your doctor if you are still experiencing side effects from your birth control pills after three months—this may mean that your birth control pill brand may need to be changed.
Possible Risks and Complications
Serious problems do not occur very often with the Pill. Typically, birth control pills are much safer than pregnancy and childbirth.Women who use combination birth control pills may have a slightly greater chance of certain medical issues than nonusers. The risk increases:
- With women who smoke
- Being age 35 or older
- Having conditions associated with a heart attack (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and conditions that increase the risk of blood clotting)
The most serious complication of combination birth control pill use has to do with developing a blood clot in your heart, lungs, brain, or legs. Women using combination pills who are confined to bed rest or are wearing a cast seem to have a higher likelihood of developing a blood clot. If you are planning to have a major operation, you should inform your surgeon that you are using combination birth control pills.If you have a history of depression, you may not be able to continue to take birth control pills if your depression worsens.
Additional birth control pill cons/risks to be aware of include:
- There is a link between pill failure and weight. This means that the effectiveness of the pill may be compromised if you are overweight.
- You must also pay attention to the medications you are taking while using the Pill. Certain medications can lower the pill’s effectiveness. Drospirenone-containing pill brands like Yaz and Beyaz can suppress the hormones that regulate your body’s water and electrolyte-levels, so these pills may have an interaction with medications that increase potassium.
- When you visit any doctor, it is very important that you include your pill brand under the “list of medications” that you are currently using.
A Word From Verywell
When deciding whether or not to use the Pill, you and your doctor should discuss the pros and cons as they relate specifically to you. If you both feel that the pros outweigh the cons, and you are a good candidate for the pill. Most women who stop using the pill do so for reasons that are unrelated to side effects. That being said, keep in mind that it may take some trial and error with various pill brands until you find the brand that works best with your body.