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Birth Control Side Effects

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birth-control-side-effectsTroublesome, Yet Still the Best Show in Town for Women Wishing to Control Pregnancy

For many women today the day begins or ends with the consumption of a the pill, a hormone based birth control contraceptive. The original (Pill) method of placing "the pill" on the top of the left knee and crossing it carefully over the right knee and holding in place just didn't work, you know!)  When it first came out, women were happy to put up with a myriad of discomforts in exchange for the benefit of choosing when they did not want to be pregnant.   With all the medical advances in contraceptives, there still remain quite a few birth control side effects which women should be aware of before they begin a regiment.  Once all the facts are gathered, you can then make an informed decision about contraceptives fully aware of what the side effects of birth control might be for you as a patient.

Notable Side Effects of The Birth Control Pill

Hormone based contraceptives have been prescribed by doctors for years (since the 1960's) and continue to be the primary method used by women to prevent unwanted pregnancy.  The original contraceptives were pharmaceutical big guns.  Very high doses of hormones found in the early versions, eventually gave way to much smaller doses found in today's versions of the pill.  The new drug, highly lauded and welcomed quietly at the time, was meant to prevent pregnancy and in some cases used to regulate ones monthly cycle. Highly controversial the pill soon was taken by more women than aspirin.

Of the positive side effects of the pill, a few, such as the control of raging acne, were soon realized and led to off label use.  Most hormonal based contraceptives are considered to be "combination birth control drugs". This simply means that there is more than one ingredient in the pill you are taking.  These combination birth control drugs contain estrogen and progesterone.  For combination hormonal contraceptives the most likely birth control side effects are:

  • Weight Change:  In almost all cases this change will be a gain in ones weight.  Weight gain is quite simply based on a change in appetite.  When taking these drugs, you tend to have a greater appetite.  Naturally this will result in weight gain if unchecked. In addition, another birth control side effect is water retention.  This will also add to the weight gain issue.
  • Acne:  The component of the contraceptive tends to have an impact on your skin and you might find that for the first time in years you lose your acne problem.  In fact, this is one of the positive side effects that many women enjoy.
  • Loss of Sex Drive:  This is one of the birth control side effects that hormone based contraceptives might have on your lifestyle which can be very problematic.  If it continues, talk to your doctor and see if you can switch to another type/brand of contraceptive that will not have this impact on your life.  Early versions of the pill proved devastating to many women's relationships with their husbands.  Taking the pill DID cut down on pregnancy but not in the manner intended.  Feeling like they were deeply pregnant, even suffering from nausea and weightgain left many women depressed and confused.  At the time Doctors and Drug Companies denied the level and impact of this effect of the pill.  They didn't want to hurt the sales.
  • Mood Swings:  A change in mood is never a side effect anyone likes, but women in particular tend to see mood changes any time hormones are involved.   You will find that, again, over time this will lessen and not be as acute as it might seem in the beginning.  Again, this side effect emulated that caused by hormonal changes of pregnancy itself.  More detrimental for some than for others.
  • Headaches/Dizziness:  As with many new drugs being introduced to your system, you might encounter a bit of dizziness and a propensity to get headaches a bit more often.  For most women these symptoms lessen over time.
  • High Blood Pressure:  This side effect of birth control is one which bears close watching.  The impact of HBP is life altering if left unabated.  You and your doctor should be aware of your blood pressure as well as any family history of HBP.
  • Breast Tenderness:  This is unfortunately a common  side effect.  The good news is it too tends to lessen over time.
  • Irregular bleeding/spotting/cycle:  This side effect tends to be the most annoying because it is the most unpredictable and that makes many women uncomfortable.  It prevents you from knowing exactly when you might have spotting which in turn causes women to be a bit on edge and anxious in the beginning of the drug regimen.

For the mini-pill, (a single ingredient pill which has only progestin, a form of progesterone), there are similar birth control side effects.  This is the hormone that begins to circulate in a pregnant woman's body and inhibits her menstrual period once she is already pregnant.  It is the inhibitor of estrogen, which is responsible for regulating fertility cycles and very important for a number of health factors for women of childbearing age.  In fact, for both types of contraceptives the side effects remain fairly similar.  For the mini-pill there are additional possible side effects such as increased bone loss, loss of hair and additional aches (such as lower leg type pains).

The pros of hormone based birth control usually outweigh the side effects of birth control.  However, as the patient it is ultimately up to you and your doctor to determine if this is the best course for your lifestyle and health.  Make sure you are aware of how the pill is impacting you and then communicate the side effects you are experiencing to your doctor.  You and your doctor can then determine whether or not the use of birth control is right for you or not.

It is important to note that what occurs with one birth control pill might not occur with another.  The side effects of birth control can, at times, be driven by the brand or type of pill you are taking.  As a result, do not be shy about asking your doctor for other remedies which will get you to the same end result.  You control your body; make your own choices based on what is best for you and what works best for you.

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