Effects of Birth Control on the Body Effects of Birth Control on the Body

The Effects of
Birth Control
on the Body

Birth control pills and patches, when used correctly, are very effective in preventing pregnancy. They’re safe for most healthy women and can even be used to treat a few health problems. However, as with almost all drugs, there are also some potential unwanted side effects and risks.

Unwelcome Mat for Sperm
Menstrual Relief
Breast Changes
Mood Changes
Not a Good Mix
Hair, More or Less
Hormonal Changes
Egg Stop Sign
Surprising Protections
Blood Pressure
The Migraine Connection
Heart Attack and Stroke Risk
Appetite and Weight Fluctuations
Acne, for Better or Worse

Effects of Birth Control on the Body

Hormone-based contraceptives are available in many forms, including pill form (oral contraceptives), as a patch that is placed on the skin, implantable preparations, and others. They each have about the same benefits and risks. To be effective, hormonal birth control use must be consistent. Skipping a day increases the chances of pregnancy.

Birth control pills and patches are dispensed only with a prescription. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with typical use, about 8 percent of women will become pregnant in their first year of taking the pill. If the pill is used perfectly (defined as the pill being taken every single day at the same time), the rate falls to only 1 percent. That potentially makes the pill a very reliable method of birth control for very diligent women.

Neither the pill nor the patch protect against sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you’re a healthy non-smoker, it’s unlikely you’ll have serious side effects from oral contraceptives.

Reproductive System

Ovaries naturally produce the female hormones estrogen and progestin. One or both of these hormones can also be synthetically made and used in contraceptives.

Higher than normal levels of estrogen and progestin stop the ovary from releasing an egg. Without an egg, the sperm have nothing to fertilize. The progestin also changes the cervical mucus, making it thick and sticky. That makes it harder for sperm to find its way into the uterus.

When using hormonal contraceptives, some women experience lighter and shorter periods and an easing of menstrual cramps and premenstrual symptoms. Use of hormone-based contraceptives decreases the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer, and the longer that a woman takes hormonal contraception, the more substantial these decreases become. These therapies may also offer some protection from noncancerous breast or ovarian growths. However, controversy remains regarding the possibility that hormonal contraceptives may somewhat increase the risk of breast cancer.

When you stop taking hormone-based birth control, your menstrual period will likely go back to normal within a few months. However, some of the cancer prevention benefits accrued from years of medication use may persist over the long term.

Side effects of oral and patch contraceptives include loss of menstruation (amenorrhea) or extra bleeding. Some bleeding or spotting between periods can occur. Some women experience vaginal irritation, breast tenderness, or breast enlargement. The hormones may also affect your sex drive.

Serious but uncommon side effects include heavy bleeding or bleeding that goes on for more than a week. Hormonal birth control may slightly raise the risk of cervical cancer, although researchers are unsure if this is due to the medication itself or if it is simply reflective of the increased risk of HPV exposure. HPV exposure is known to increase the risk of cervical cancer in sexually active women who are actively trying to prevent pregnancy.

Cardiovascular and Central Nervous Systems

For some women, birth control pills and patches can increase blood pressure. Those extra hormones can also make it a little more likely that you’ll form a blood clot. That risk is substantially higher if you’re a smoker or are over age 35. The risk of blood clots is also greater if you have high blood pressure, preexisting heart disease, or diabetes.

These side effects are uncommon in most women but are potentially very serious. That’s why hormonal birth control methods require a prescription and routine monitoring. There’s an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, particularly in smokers and women over age 35. Seek medical attention if you feel chest pain, cough up blood, or feel faint. Severe headache, difficulty speaking, or weakness/numbness in a limb could be signs of stroke.

Estrogen may aggravate migraines, if you already suffer from them. Some women experience mood changes and depression when taking these contraceptives.

Digestive System

Some women experience changes to their appetite and weight while taking hormonal contraception. Other side effects include nausea and bloating.

There’s an increased risk of benign liver tumors or liver cancer. If you have a history of gallstones, these contraceptives may lead to faster formation of stones. See your doctor if you have severe pain, vomiting, or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Dark urine or light-colored stool can also be a sign of serious side effects.

Integumentary System (Skin, Hair, Nails)

For many women, this method of birth control can improve acne. Others may experience breakouts of acne or notice no change at all. It may also cause brown pigmentation of the skin.

Sometimes, these hormones cause unusual hair growth. However, oral contraceptives are also the main treatment for hirsutism, a condition that causes coarse, dark hair to grow on the face, back, and abdomen.

Oral contraceptives and hormone patches are effective in preventing pregnancy when used consistently. Read more.

Birth control pills and patches work by altering the amount of female hormones in your system. Read more.

Changes to the consistency of cervical mucus serve to stop sperm from entering the uterus. Read more.

Higher levels of estrogen and progestin stop the egg from leaving the ovary, so there’s nothing to fertilize. Read more.

Some women who use hormonal contraception find relief from menstrual discomfort. Read more.

This type of birth control offers a bit of extra protection from uterine and ovarian cancer, among other things. Read more.

Some women experience breast tenderness or breast enlargement while using hormonal contraceptives. There is some controversy that hormonal birth control can increase risk of breast cancer. Read more.

It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, as there’s a risk of high blood pressure. Read more.

There’s a slightly increased risk of blood clots, especially for women who also smoke or have heart disease. Read more.

If you have migraines, this method of birth control may make them worse. Read more.

Some women experience depression when using hormone-based contraceptives. Read more.

It’s rare, but there’s an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, especially if you have other risk factors. Read more.

Smokers are at higher risk of complications than non-smokers. Read more.

There may be an increase or decrease in your appetite, and some women notice changes in weight, too. Read more.

Bloating and some nausea may be related to use of these contraceptives. Read more.

Estrogen and progestin can aggravate your acne … or make it better. Read more.

While some women experience the side effect of growing unwanted hair, others experience a reduction in hair. Read more.