IBS and Birth Control Pills

woman considering birth control pills
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Are you wondering if the birth control pill you are taking (or are thinking about taking) will affect your IBS? This is a very good question, as changing hormone levels can certainly affect the digestive system and thus perhaps have an impact on IBS symptoms. Let's take a look at what is known about the interaction of birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and IBS to see whether an interaction between the two might be helpful or make your IBS symptoms worse.

Note: This article is about the interaction between IBS and birth control pills. If you are looking for information on medications in general for IBS, click here.

Female Sex Hormones and the Digestive System

As I stated above, hormonal changes can be a factor in how the digestive system is functioning. This is because receptor cells for the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone are found throughout the digestive system. This is why many women have seen a connection between the severity of their IBS symptoms and their menstrual cycles.

Birth Control Pills and IBS

Most birth control pills work by changing the levels of the two female sex hormones. Therefore, it would stand to reason that these medications would impact on your IBS. Anecdotally, some women report that taking birth control pills has helped their IBS while others report that their IBS worsened when they started to take an oral contraceptive.

In contrast to these anecdotal reports, and in spite of the connection between the female sex hormones and digestive functioning, most research studies have found that taking birth control pills has little effect on IBS, either good or bad.

Drospirenone and IBS

However, there may be a glaring exception to the general conclusion that birth control pills have little effect on IBS.

A large-scale study found that women who were taking birth control pills containing drospirenone were at higher risk to receive a diagnosis of IBS. These researchers did not find the same higher risk for an IBS diagnosis in women who were taking birth control pills that contained levonorgestrel.

Medications containing drospirenone are used for the treatment of a variety of health problems, as well as for the purpose of contraception, and are sold under the following brand names:

  • Angeliq
  • Beyaz
  • Loryna
  • Ocella
  • Safyral
  • Yasmin
  • Yaz

What This Information Means for You

If you have not yet started taking a birth control pill but are considering the option, make sure that your doctor knows about your IBS so that they can make an optimal choice for you.

If you have IBS and are taking a birth control pill that contains drospirenone, speak with your doctor about other options. There are a variety of oral contraceptive medications available, your doctor can pick an option that seems like it will be optimal for you given your overall health status and your IBS.

Even if your birth control pill does not contain drospirenone, but you feel that it is making your IBS worse, bring it the attention of your doctor. Again, your doctor can recommend alternative methods for contraception that will not make your symptoms worse.

The Future

Given the fact that there is a relationship between the female sex hormones and digestive functioning makes it seem, at least at face value, that this would open up potential treatment options. Let's all hope that continued research is conducted to better assess the relationship between IBS and birth control pills and to determine if this relationship can be used to bring about IBS symptom relief.

Sources:

Bird, S., et. al. "Irritable bowel syndrome and drospirenone-containing oral contraceptives; a comparative-safety study." Current Drug Safety 2012 7:8-15.

Heltkemper, M. & Jarrett, M. "Gynecological Aspects of Irritable Bowel Syndrome" International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder Fact Sheet. Accessed February 5,2010.

Palsson, O. & Whitehead, W. "Hormones and IBS" The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Accessed April 13, 2011.

"Women and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)" The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Accessed April 13, 2011.

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