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Common Birth Control Side Effects

Birth control packets

Hormonal birth control pills are one of the most popular and effective ways to prevent pregnancy. These tiny pills, packed with synthetic hormones, offer a practical and reliable means of hormonal contraception. 

Taking birth control pills provides several benefits beyond pregnancy prevention. Hormonal contraceptives are known to regulate menstrual cycles, alleviate menstrual cramps, and manage various medical conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, like any medical intervention, they come with possible side effects that individuals need to be aware of and navigate wisely.

Birth control pills come in two types, combined oral contraceptives and progesterone-only forms. Progesterone-only pills are not often used as they are reserved for special circumstances. Therefore, combination birth control pills will be the focus of this discussion.

At Maiden Lane Medical, our expert team of healthcare professionals believes in the power of knowledge and informed choices. By familiarizing yourself with the potential side effects, you can make confident decisions regarding your reproductive health.

If you have questions or wish to discuss birth control methods, book an appointment with our caring team of experts at Maiden Lane Medical! We are committed to guiding you toward a safe and effective contraceptive solution! 

What are combined birth control pills? 

Combined oral contraceptive pills (commonly known as combination pills) are a widely used and highly effective method of hormonal contraception. As the name suggests, these pills contain a combination of two synthetic hormones, estrogen and progestin, which work in harmony to prevent pregnancy.

All combined pills have the same estrogen in them, just at different doses. The progesterone in them has many versions so that if someone has side effects, they can be tailored to any problem. They work by not allowing ovulation from the estrogen component and stabilization of the lining of the uterus by the progesterone component.

The estrogen combined with an oral contraceptive pill helps to suppress the release of eggs from the ovaries, known as ovulation. This ensures that no egg is available for fertilization, thereby preventing pregnancy. 

Additionally, the progestin component of the pills thickens the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg, and it also alters the uterine lining, making it less conducive for embryo implantation.

The convenience and simplicity of combined oral contraceptive pills have made them popular among individuals seeking reliable birth control. Daily consumption of these pills ensures continuous hormone levels, maintaining their effectiveness in preventing pregnancy when taken correctly.

The most common side effects of birth control pills

Below you will find some of the most common side effects that are experienced by taking birth control pills.

  1. Bleeding at the wrong time. This can be bleeding between periods as well as skipping periods. The solution is not to worry but work with your doctor to find the levels of hormones that work for you.
  2. Nausea. This is common, especially during the first few weeks of taking the pill. Usually, it goes away in a week or so, and we recommend taking the pill at night for a few weeks so that you are asleep and feeling nausea until it goes away.
  3. Breast tenderness. This is also common and usually clears up in a few cycles. Sometimes a progesterone change is indicated. 
  4. Weight gain. There can be mild weight gain on a pill due to holding fluid. The research just does not show that pills have any significant weight gain. All studies show 1-3 lb weight gain that is not permanent. Once again, stopping the pill should make any weight gain go away within 48 hours. That is the time it takes for the medication to go out of your system. Once again, this can be an indication to change the progesterone.
  5. Moodiness. Some people have mood fluctuations on the pill, and once again, your doctor can change the pill for you to account for that.
  6. Dry eyes. Some people get dry eyes, especially when wearing contact lenses. A mild saline eye drop would fix that.
  7. Lowered libido. This can be caused by the estrogen component, so a super low-dose pill may work. Otherwise, a nonhormonal option such as an IUD or barrier method may work better.

Serious but rare side effects of birth control pills:

 These side effects are a reason to contact your doctor as soon as possible:

  1. Migraine headaches. An occasional headache is not a problem, but severe or frequent headaches are a problem. You should stop your pill and contact the doctor who may want to do more testing. 
  2. Calf pain or swelling. If calf pain or swelling, especially if it is one-sided and even more so if it occurs after a recent airline flight, could indicate a blood clot, also known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can be very serious. This condition often runs in families, so if your family has a history of blood clots, some extra blood testing may be needed to ensure you are not carrying any genetic markers that may put you at risk.
  3. Increased blood pressure. Pills can cause an increase in blood pressure which is why you need to be seen at least once a year for a blood pressure check, which is also why they are not over-the-counter medications. High blood pressure can cause many problems, including cardiac disease and strokes.

High blood pressure can be a cause of headaches, but most of the time there are no symptoms.

Overall most women who take the pill do just fine, and the pill has a few other benefits:

  1. Mild to moderate acne control. It usually takes about 4 months of taking them to kick in completely.
  2. Shorter, lighter periods that help women with a history of menstrual cramps enormously. In fact, there are pills that can safely stop the period or bring it down to 4 light periods a year.
  3. Ovarian cancer protection. 5 years of combined oral contraceptives at any time in life lower ovarian cancer rates by nearly 90%. Women with a family history will often take them for prevention.

This is a list of side effects, both common and possibly annoying but not serious, and a section on possible serious and rare side effects. 

Of course, any questions can be and should be discussed with your doctor.

Schedule an Appointment with Maiden Lane Medical Today! 

 While taking a birth control pill can be a highly effective method of preventing pregnancy, it’s crucial to be aware of possible side effects that may vary from person to person. At Maiden Lane Medical, we are dedicated to providing you with valuable insights into hormonal contraception, empowering you to take control of your reproductive health confidently.

By staying informed about common side effects and potential impacts on conditions like breast cancer and sexually transmitted infections, you can engage in proactive conversations with our medical experts. Open communication with your healthcare provider is essential in tailoring a birth control plan that addresses your specific needs while minimizing any discomfort or concerns.

Your well-being is our priority, and our team at Maiden Lane Medical is here to support you on your contraceptive journey! Call us today to schedule a consultation. 

Author: Shannon Hudson MD

Medically Reviewed By

Sarah Adamic, NP
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner