Because You Asked: Is The Pill Bad for You?

By Sophie Dila

For a lot of people, when they hear the term “birth control” they think of “the pill” or oral contraceptive. No surprise there – the pill has been around for 50 years and remains one of the most popular methods of birth control out there. It works by releasing synthetic hormones that stop ovulation, the natural process that needs to occur for a woman to become pregnant. Without ovulation, no eggs are released, and then sperm have nothing to fertilize. Voila, no pregnancy.

The benefits of the pill are obvious. The pill can ease the symptoms of PMS and acne, lighten your period and manage the timing, and it’s known to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer over 5 years of use. Oh, and if used perfectly (taking it at the same time of day, every day), the pill is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Bingo!

Like most medications, oral contraception comes with side effects. If you’re healthy and don’t smoke cigarettes, severe side effects are unlikely. Some of the more serious health risks associated with the pill include increased risk for stroke and blood clots – particularly for smokers and as women grow older – and an elevated risk for breast or cervical cancer. If that worries you, know that you are not alone and you have options. Picking a birth control method is a very personal choice, and Beforeplay.org is here to help you consider the big picture of your health and lifestyle as you shop around for the best birth control match for you.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about a Danish study linking the use of hormonal contraception, including birth control pills, and depression – but others have questions about design and conclusion of the study, noting that the results are a little more complicated and nuances than first presented.

Here’s the skinny on the stuff to also pay attention to:

Blood Clots

All hormone-based contraceptives, like the pill, have a slightly greater risk of blood clots. However, it’s nothing close to the high risk of developing blood clots during pregnancy. And since birth control prevents pregnancy, your body is in a generally safer state on the pill than with a bun in the oven.

Stroke

Women who are over 35 do have an increased risk of stroke or heart attack when on the pill, and women who suffer from migraines with aura are also at greater risk of stroke. Family history of cardiovascular disease is an important factor to consider when choosing your optimal birth control method, and the pill might not be your best option if stroke or heart attacks run in the family.

Cancer

The pill can increase the risk of breast cancer, since breast cancer can develop from being exposed to high levels of hormones over time. However, 10 years after women stop using the pill, the risk of breast cancer restabilizes back to normal. On the up side, the pill works to decrease the risk of some cancers, including ovarian and endometrial cancers. This is another place where perspective matters, so if you have a family history of breast cancer, you should explore other contraceptive methods that have less or no hormones.

 

Here are some other helpful considerations that should play into your birth control choices.

Smoking

We might be stating the obvious, but smoking is very hazardous for your health in many ways, including increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack and cancer. Studies show women over the age of 35 who smoke and also take the pill are at even greater risk of these health problems. If you fall into that category, we suggest you look into alternative, low hormone or hormone-free birth control methods. Also, talk to your doctor about the various resources out there that can help you quit smoking and get you back on the path to a healthier lifestyle. Many people have quit, and we know you can, too!

Weight Gain

Many women will attest that the pill causes weight gain, which makes sense because estrogen can increase fluid retention and bloating. Not all women gain weight while on the pill, and it’s not sure that birth control actually increases the levels of fat in your body. This problem can be solved as simply as changing the type of oral contraceptive you use. If you think the pill is causing you to gain weight, try a different pill or birth control method until you find one that works best for you.

Sex Drive

In some women, the pill can cause lower sex drive and cause discomfort during sex, but this also doesn’t happen to everyone. In fact, for some women, the safety and ease of knowing that the pill prevents pregnancy can actually make you feel freer to enjoy the pleasures of sex. The hard answers of why the pill can make you feel less frisky are still unclear, but we do know a few things. Testosterone is linked to sex drive, libido and lubrication. Ovaries normally produce testosterone, but the pill stops the ovulation process and decreases testosterone levels in the body. That might be the reason why some women experience dryness and lower sex drive while taking the pill. Thankfully, there are plenty of other contraceptive options that you can try out if you think the pill is messing with your libido.

Your birth control choices are super personal, and as with life, it’s all a matter of perspective. If the pill’s health risks are a deal breaker for you (because, say, you are a 35 year old smoker with high blood pressure and a history of breast cancer runs in your family), then there are lots of other low hormone or hormone-free contraceptive methods, like condoms, the diaphragm and the IUD, that could be a better fit for you. More questions? Check out our birth control selector here.