What Are the Possible Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill?

What You Should Know Before You Fill That Prescription

Woman taking birth control pill
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While the majority of women who use the birth control pill experience no side effects at all, this oral contraceptive does carry some risks. This is the case with any pharmaceutical product that alters your body chemistry in some way.

The birth control pill works by providing hormones that prevent a woman's body from ovulating during her monthly menstrual cycle. The cervical mucus can thicken, which blocks the entry of sperm.

The lining of the uterus changes, not thickening as it usually does during the menstrual cycle, so as to lower the chances that implantation will take place.

Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill

Because of the effects of the hormones in oral contraceptives on your body, there is the chance you will experience side effects such as:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Blood clots: more likely in women over 35 who smoke

Most of these side effects ease up after three months on the pill. If they don't, speak to your health care provider. She may be able to prescribe a different oral contraceptive that works better for you. 

When to Call Your Doctor

Most of the side effects of the birth control pill are minor. But if you are experiencing these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately as they are the signs of dangerous blood clots in your legs, lungs, or brain:

  • Leg swelling
  • Leg pain
  • Leg that feels warm to the touch or has changes in skin color
  • Fever or chills
  • Short of breath or it is hard to breathe
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Headache that gets worse, migraine with aura

Positive Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill

On the flip side, some women experience positive side effects thanks to their birth control.

These include:

Weighing the Pros and Cons of the Pill

In choosing your preferred method of birth control, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons of every option. The only method that's 100 percent effective is abstinence, and that carries one major downside, the whole "no sex" thing.

Every other method of birth control carries some sort of risk. Talk to your doctor about the options available to you. Ask about how they work, how effective they are, and what risks they carry.

Pregnancy rates for different birth control methods are measured from one of two vantage points, "perfect use" or "typical use." If your primary goal is to avoid pregnancy, these are important statistics to discuss with your doctor.

Sometimes, choosing your contraceptive isn't just about success rates; it's about what fits your lifestyle best. It's important to weigh your future plans, comfort level, sexual behavior, and a method's effectiveness against sexually-transmitted infections.

Sources:

Birth Control Pills. Nemours. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/contraception-birth.html

Birth Control Pills—Combination. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000655.htm.

Birth Control Pills—Overview. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007460.htm.

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