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Birth control pills are convenient and effective for many people. But maybe you’ve wondered whether it’s good for your body to be taking birth control pills for a long time.
Read on to learn whether there’s a limit to how long you can take birth control pills and what to keep in mind.
Birth control pills contain small doses of hormones for preventing pregnancy. There are two basic types of birth control pills.
One type of pill only contains the hormone progestin. It’s sometimes referred to as the “minipill.”
A thicker layer of mucus makes it harder for sperm to reach and fertilize the egg. A thinner endometrium makes it harder for a fertilized embryo to become implanted and grow during pregnancy.
A more common type of birth control pill contains both progestin and estrogen. This is called the combination pill.
The estrogen helps keep your ovaries from releasing an egg into your fallopian tube, which is where it can become fertilized by a sperm, or to shed along with the lining of your uterus during your next period.
If you’ve been taking birth control pills for some time and have had no side effects, it’s likely that you can continue using them for as long as you need them and as long as your healthcare provider deems it’s still a safe choice.
For most healthy people, birth control pills are safe for long-term use. There are exceptions, of course. Not everyone has the same experience with birth control pills.
Progestin-only pills are appropriate for all nonsmokers. However, when it comes to those who smoke, the pills are only appropriate for those under 35.
Once you reach 35, discuss birth control options with your healthcare provider. Progestin-only pills may no longer be the best choice for you.
If you smoke, you must find another method of birth control to lower your risk for complications. If you don’t smoke and are over 35, you and your healthcare provider can decide what’s best for you.
Combination pills are generally safe for nonsmokers of any age. But those who smoke should avoid combination pills regardless of age. Estrogen increases the risk of blood clots.
Get regular checkups with your gynecologist and talk about how you’re tolerating your birth control pills.
It’s also important to renew and fill your prescription before you run out. As a long-term birth control method, birth control pills require consistent use. Take your birth control pills exactly as prescribed.
Using them for a few months, stopping for a month or two, and then starting to use them again raises your risk for an unplanned pregnancy.
Missing a dose once in a while usually isn’t a problem. Take two the next day when you remember. However, this does raise your risk for accidental pregnancy. If you find yourself forgetting to take your pill every day, it may not be the right birth control method for you.
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During the first few months of using birth control pills, you may have some minor bleeding between periods. This is called breakthrough bleeding. It’s more common if you’re taking progestin-only pills.
It typically stops on its own, but report it to your healthcare provider if it happens, along with any other side effects.
Try to take your pill at the same time every day, particularly if you use a progestin-only pill.
If you experience no problems during your first year of taking birth control pills, you can probably continue using them without issue for many years.
Here are some possible side effects.
One common concern about long-term use of birth control pills is how it affects your cancer risk.
Blood clots and heart attack
After 35, it’s important to reevaluate your options for birth control with your healthcare provider.
Smoking also worsens these health concerns.
If you have a history of migraines, the estrogen in combination pills may make them worse.
However, you may also experience no changes in headache intensity. If your migraines are associated with your menstrual period, you may even find that birth control pills ease the pain.
Mood and libido
For some women, taking birth control pills can cause changes in mood or libido. However, these types of changes are uncommon.
Birth control pills are powerful drugs that require a prescription. Your healthcare provider should only prescribe them if your medical history and current health suggest they’ll be safe and effective. If you’re healthy, you should be able to take birth control pills with few side effects or problems.
If you’ve already tried birth control pills and experienced unpleasant side effects, talk with your healthcare provider about your experiences.
Try to remember what type of pill you took previously. Chances are a different type of pill may allow you to use birth control pills without experiencing your earlier side effects.
If you smoke or have heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, you may not be an ideal candidate for birth control pills.
Generally speaking, women who smoke can use birth control pills effectively. As you reach your mid-30s and beyond, smoking while on the pill puts you at higher risk for complications.
Smoking can lower the effectiveness of estrogen in combination pills. Smoking also increases your risk for heart disease, blood clots, and cancer.
Birth control pills can sometimes be slightly less effective for women who are obese. If you’re obese, talk to your healthcare provider about whether pills are your best option.
If you’re looking for alternative long-term birth control options, you may want to consider an intrauterine device (IUD). Depending on the type of IUD you choose, it may last for anywhere from 3 to 10 years.
Natural birth control options include the rhythm method. In this method, you carefully monitor your menstrual cycle and either avoid sex or use condoms or other barrier methods during your fertile days.
Some couples also practice the withdrawal method. In this method, the penis is pulled away from the vagina before ejaculating.
Both the rhythm and withdrawal methods carry a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy than birth control pills or other contraceptive methods. There’s also a higher risk of contracting STIs.
Unless you’re trying to get pregnant or you’ve reached menopause, birth control pills might be a good option. Depending on the type of birth control pill you use, you’re protected from pregnancy after 7 to 10 days of starting to take it.
Do your research and talk with your healthcare provider. If you have a sexual partner, talk to them about your birth control use.
If you think it’s appropriate, you can also talk with family members and friends. However, keep in mind that another’s experience with birth control pills or any other form of contraceptives won’t necessarily be the same as your experience.
The right birth control choice for you is the one that fits your lifestyle and health needs.
Assuming you’re healthy, long-term use of birth control pills should have no adverse impact on your health. Taking a break now and then appears to have no medical benefit.
Long-term birth control use generally doesn’t harm your ability to get pregnant and have a healthy baby once you no longer take it.
Your regular menstrual cycle will probably return within a month or two after you stop taking your pills. Many people get pregnant within a few months of stopping birth control pills and have healthy, complication-free pregnancies.