Just the Facts on Birth Control Pills

Woman holding contraceptive pills
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Do birth control pills cause weight gain? Should women take occasional breaks from oral contraceptives?

While the majority of women who participated in a nationwide survey of women aged 18 to 35 believe the answer to these questions is "yes," the fact is that the answer to both of these questions is "no." These are some of the myths that affect how millions of American women think about and use birth control pills.

"It's very important for women to be educated about the birth control pill so that they are able to base their contraceptive decisions on facts, not myths and misinformation," said A.

George Thomas, clinical associate professor, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City. "After 40 years of use, we take for granted that women are fully informed about the Pill, but I find that many of my patients are not. The survey results confirm that we need to do a better job educating women."

Does the Pill protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases?

No. The Pill offers no protection against any type of sexually transmitted diseases, and women need to keep this fact in mind when using oral contraceptives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among sexually active women, the only way to reduce the risk of HIV or other STDs is through the "consistent and correct use of latex condoms." Consistent and correct use of condoms can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting most STDs, including HIV infection.

Is the Pill an effective treatment for acne?

Only one birth control pill is FDA-approved for the treatment of moderate acne.
That pill is Ortho Tri-cyclen. In addition to being an effective contraceptive, it is also an effective treatment for moderate acne in female patients age 15 or older and who have no known contraindications to oral contraceptive therapy, desire contraception, have achieved menstruation and are unresponsive to topical anti-acne medications.

The Survey

Survey Finding:: Sixty-one percent of women surveyed believe the Pill causes weight gain.

Fact: Not all birth control pills cause weight gain. An equal number of women tend to gain weight as lose weight while taking a birth control pill. In clinical studies of Ortho Tri-cyclen, women reported no more weight gain than women who were taking inactive pills. Women concerned about weight gain should talk with their healthcare professionals.

Survey Finding: Almost half of survey respondents believe women need to take a break from using the Pill.

Fact:: Women don't need a break from the Pill. "Today, more women are using the Pill and staying on it longer," said Dr. Thomas. "And, research shows that women do not need to take a break from the Pill." Healthcare professionals can prescribe birth control pills to healthy, nonsmoking women over 40. But, how long a woman stays on the Pill is something she should discuss with her healthcare professional.

Survey Finding: Forty-three percent of survey respondents believe that the birth control pill can be an effective acne treatment.

Fact: Not all birth control pills are clinically proven to treat acne. There is only one Pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration and clinically proven to help reduce moderate acne and maintain clearer skin. In clinical studies, nearly nine out of 10 women who took Ortho Tri-cyclen showed significant improvements in their skin.

Survey Finding: Twenty-one percent of women surveyed believe the Pill can cause infertility.

Fact: There is no clinical evidence that the Pill affects fertility. When a woman is ready to become pregnant, she should consult her healthcare professional and stop taking her birth control pills. Most women experience a rapid return to fertility.

Risks and Side Effects of Birth Control Pills

The Pill is not for everyone. Although most side effects of oral contraceptives are not serious, and occur infrequently, there are some side effects which can be life threatening. The most serious risks associated with pill use include blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks. These risks are increased if you smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects, especially in women over 35. It is strongly advised that women who use oral contraceptive not smoke.

Do birth control pills increase your risk of developing breast cancer? While some studies have reported an increase in the risk of developing breast cancer, the majority of studies have found no overall increase in this risk.

If you are concerned by a possible increased risk of breast cancer, talk to your clinician about your personal risk and how it relates to your use of oral contraceptives.

Certain women should never use the Pill, including women who have blood clots, certain cancers, a history of heart attack or stroke, as well as those who are or may be pregnant.

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