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.”
It works by thickening your cervical mucus and thinning the lining of your uterus, known as the endometrium.
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.
Progestin-only pills also help prevent ovulation, which is the release of an egg from the ovary. This is a necessary step for pregnancy to occur.
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, 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 your doctor 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 like the minpill carry a lower risk of blood clot than combination pills for women who smoke.
Caution should be exercised when using combination pills in women who are smokers, especially if they are over the age of 35. The estrogen component of the combination pill carries an increased risk of blood clots.
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 a healthcare professional can decide what’s best for you.
Combination pills may also carry a higher risk for women with other medical conditions. Discuss your alternatives with a doctor.
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.
Keep in mind that birth control pills don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Use condoms along with the pill.
Also keep in mind that the minipill has a lower efficacy rate compared to combination pills. It’s important to take the minipill at the same time every day and not skip any doses.
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 a healthcare professional if it happens, along with any other side effects.
Taking birth control pills may lead to breast tenderness and nausea for some people. You may be able to reduce these side effects by taking your pill before bedtime.
Try to take your pill at the same time every day, particularly if you use a progestin-only pill.
One common concern among birth control pill users is that the birth control pill will make them gain weight. In fact, there is no evidence that birth control pills cause weight gain.
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.
According to the
Long-term use may slightly increase your risk for breast, liver, and cervical cancers. If these cancers run in your family, tell a healthcare professional and discuss your risks.
Blood clots and heart attack
The long-term use of birth control pills also slightly raises your risk for blood clots and heart attack after the age of 35. The risk is higher if you also have:
- high blood pressure
- a history of heart disease
After 35, it’s important to reevaluate your options for birth control with a doctor.
Smoking also worsens these health concerns.
If you have a history of migraine, the estrogen in combination pills may make them worse. If you experience migraine headaches with aura, talk to a healthcare professional about your birth control options. Combination pills may increase your risk for blood clots.
However, you may also experience no changes in headache intensity. If your migraine attacks 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. A healthcare professional 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 a doctor 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.
There are many different types of birth control pills. If you experience any side effects, talk to a doctor about your symptoms. They can help you find an alternative that may be better for you.
If you smoke or have heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, you may not be an ideal candidate for birth control pills.
If you are a smoker or have heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, particularly if you are over the age of 35, talk to your doctor about the safety and efficacy of birth control pills.
These conditions can increase your risk of complications like blood clots and alternative forms of contraception may need to be considered.
Birth control pills can sometimes be slightly less effective for women who have obesity. If you have obesity, talk to your doctor 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.
Most people can also use male and female condoms without problems. They also help prevent STI transmission, which birth control pills don’t do.
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 doctor. 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.
Even so, be sure to discuss your birth control use with your doctor every year, or if you learn of a new medical condition or risk factor in your life.
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.