The pill is a type of birth control. It works by preventing the body from producing an egg, which means that there is nothing for sperm to fertilize, and pregnancy cannot occur. Like all medicines, birth control pills have possible side effects that you need to be aware of. There are minor side effects and rare but serious side effects. These vary widely among individuals, and different pills cause different side effects.
Common Side Effects of the Pill
Below are the common side effects of oral contraceptives that usually subside after two to three months of consistent use.
Some users experience mild nausea when first starting birth control pills. Usually, this goes away within a short time. Taking your pill with food or taking it before bedtime may help. If you have persistent problems or unusually severe nausea, contact your provider.
Breakthrough bleeding, or spotting refers to when vaginal bleeding occurs between menstrual cycles. It may look like light bleeding or brown discharge.
Spotting is the most common side effect of birth control pills. It happens because the body is adjusting to changing levels of hormones, and the uterus is adjusting to having a thinner lining.
Taking the pill as prescribed, usually every day at the same time, can help prevent bleeding between periods.
The hormones in birth control pills can cause or increase the frequency of headaches and migraine.
Changes in the female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) can trigger migraine. Symptoms can depend on the dosage and type of pill. For example, low-dose pills are less likely to cause this symptom.
On the other hand, if a person’s migraine is associated with PMS, taking the pill may reduce their symptoms.
Mild breast tenderness or enlargement may occur after starting birth control pills. The tenderness can be reduced by decreasing caffeine and salt intake and wearing a bra with good support. Usually, it gets better within a few weeks. If you notice persistent discomfort or a discrete lump, make an appointment with your provider.
Some users may notice changes in their emotional status: depressed mood or emotional instability. If you have a history of depression, discuss this with your provider. It is important to monitor your progress carefully when starting birth control pills. If you notice changes in your mood after beginning birth control pills, promptly contact your provider.
Decreased Sex Drive
While your sex drive is affected by many things, the hormones in birth control pills can be a factor in decreased sex drive. If you are noticing this side effect persistently, let your provider know. A change to another pill or another method of contraception may be considered.
Changes in Vaginal Discharge
Changes in vaginal discharge may occur when taking the pill. This may be an increase or decrease in vaginal lubrication or a change in the nature of the discharge. These changes are not usually harmful, but alterations in color or odor could point to an infection.
If the pill causes vaginal dryness and a person wants to engage in sexual activity, using lubrication can help make this more comfortable.
Rare Side Effects of the Pill
The pill is safe for most females to use. However, research has linked its use with certain risks. Therefore, before taking birth control pills, discussing individual risk factors with a healthcare provider is important.
Birth control pills can make users slightly more prone to form blood clots. A blood clot can occur in a vein or artery and can have different symptoms depending on where it forms. Clots can occur in the legs, abdomen, heart, lungs, eye, or brain. In the brain, a clot could manifest as a stroke. The risk of these events occurring is very low. Still, it increases in people over 35, smokers, and those with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, clotting tendency, or a family history of clotting abnormalities.
Birth control pills have been associated with an increased risk of forming benign liver tumors. This is rare, but you should contact your provider if you develop upper abdominal pain while taking birth control pills. Additionally, birth control pills may accelerate the formation of gallbladder stones in users with a strong family history of gallstone disease.
Breast Cancer: The risk of breast cancer is slightly higher in people who use hormonal birth control pills than in people who have never used them.
Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer: These cancers seem less likely to occur in people who take the pill.
Cervical Cancer: Taking the pill for more than five years is linked to a higher risk of cervical cancer. However, most types of cervical cancer are due to the human papillomavirus.
Colorectal Cancer: Taking the pill is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Birth control pills affect a person’s hormone levels, leading to various side effects. These effects usually resolve within 2–3 months but can persist. If the side effects last for a long time or are very uncomfortable, it is best to talk to a healthcare provider about trying a different brand or a different method of birth control.
At South Avenue Women’s Services, we can provide you with all the information you need to know about starting the birth control pill. Our health care professionals will discuss every birth control option available and decide what will be best for your health and lifestyle.
Contact us at (585)271-3850 to schedule an appointment today!