The Other Benefits of Oral Contraceptives

The Benefits of the Pill Go Way Beyond Preventing Pregnancy

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The benefits of "the Pill?" Preventing unplanned pregnancies, of course. But that's not all. Oral contraceptives (also commonly known as simply "the Pill") contain progestin and may also contain a synthetic estrogen. These hormones can help improve or prevent other health conditions. In fact, according to American Family Physician, the non-contraceptive benefits of birth control pills are so important that some patients use the pills exclusively for those reasons.

Other Benefits of Oral Contraceptives

Among the health conditions prevented or improved by taking the Pill: 

Acne
Acne is associated with excessive androgen levels, and oral contraceptives reduce the amount of androgen that is available. Just how this works depends on the specific hormone combination in a particular birth control pill. In a study published in American Family Physician, 83 percent of participants who took a birth control pill containing the hormones ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate reported an improvement in their acne after six months. 

Breast Pain
Oral contraceptives help alleviate what's known as "cyclic breast pain"—breast pain specifically linked to your menstrual cycle.

Dysmenorrhea
The FDA hasn't approved the use of oral contraceptives for the relief of cramps, but women on the Pill rarely experience menstrual cramps.

Ectopic Pregnancy
The Pill lowers your risk of an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg attaches itself somewhere other than the lining of the uterus.

 

Endometriosis
Combination birth control pills (meaning, they contain estrogen and progestin) help prevent and treat this condition, which causes painful periods and can lead to fertility issues.

Functional Ovarian Cysts
These are the most common type of ovarian cyst and usually dissolve within two menstrual cycles without treatment.

Oral contraceptives may help prevent this type of ovarian cyst by preventing ovulation.

Hirsutism
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of this condition which results in excessive amounts of hair in places where men typically grow it—the face, chest, and back. Oral contraceptives can improve or stabilize up to 50 percent of cases caused by PCOS.

Iron Deficiency Anemia
The Pill may help improve anemia in women who have very heavy periods.

Metrorrhagia
Women who experience abnormal bleeding from the uterus can often regulate their menstrual cycle with oral contraceptives, if after close medical investigation the abnormal bleeding is not found to be a symptom of a more serious condition. 

Mittelschmerz
Oral contraceptives block the surge of hormones that occurs midway through a menstrual cycle and are often effective in relieving mid-cycle or ovulation pain (mittelschmerz is German for "middle pain").

Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer
Women on the Pill experience these types of cancer at about half the rate of non-users.

It's important to note, however, that the Pill may increase your risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer if you've been taking it for more than five years.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Many women on the Pill experience fewer symptoms of PMS. Other treatments and lifestyle modifications provide relief, too. 

Uterine Fibroid Tumors
According to the National Library of Medicine, oral contraceptives may be an effective treatment for uterine fibroid tumors.

The Birth Control Pill Bottom Line

The Pill may—or may not—be the right choice for you. If you think it might be right for treating any of the above, discuss with your doctor. 

Sources:

AAFP. Benefits and Risks Of OCs Beyond Contraception. http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040501/tips/20.html. Accessed 07/20/09.

AAFP. Update On Oral Contraceptives. http://www.aafp.org/afp/991101ap/2073.html. Accessed 07/20/09.

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