Does Birth Control Have Long-Term Side Effects?

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
April 4, 2022

Oral contraceptives, more commonly known as birth control pills, have been around since the 1960s.

Many people start taking birth control pills as teenagers. In fact, the average age to begin birth control is 16 years old. At this age, most people have a regular menstrual cycle. 

It’s common to take birth control pills for decades.

People who want to have children may stop them for a period.

Besides the desire to conceive, some people stop using birth control pills due to unpleasant long-term side effects.

If you experience long-term side effects of birth control pills, there are other options for long-term contraception.

What Is Birth Control?

Birth control includes many contraceptive methods that prevent pregnancy before it happens.

You have many choices for birth control, including reversible and permanent options.

When choosing a contraceptive method, you and your provider should discuss your medical history and preferences to decide which method is right for you.

Types of Oral Contraceptives

Birth control pills are the second most used contraceptive method among Americans. 

Birth control pills use synthetic hormones to stop ovulation (the release of eggs from the ovaries).

This ultimately prevents sperm from joining with an egg (fertilization).

Some birth control pills also alter the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant, which may result in pregnancy.

There are two types of birth control pills: combined oral contraceptives (COCs) and progestin-only pills (minipills).

COCs contain synthetic forms of two hormones – estrogen and progesterone.

Minipills only contain a synthetic form of progesterone.

Before prescribing COCs or minipills, your doctor will consider your age, medical history, and menstrual symptoms.

Possible side effects may vary depending on which type of oral contraceptive you take.

Side Effects of Birth Control

Even though they don’t offer 100% protection against pregnancy, birth control pills offer a highly effective form of birth control.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, they may also lessen uncomfortable menstrual symptoms. 

But introducing these synthetic hormones to your body may cause temporary side effects, which will likely resolve within a few months as your body adjusts.

Short-term side effects of oral contraceptives include:

  • Spotting between periods
  • Nausea
  • Bloating and weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Sore breasts

If these side effects don’t resolve within 2-3 months, speak with your nurse or doctor.

They may suggest another type of birth control pill or an alternative method of contraception.

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Long-Term Effects of Birth Control

People have used birth control pills for decades without significant problems.

Though, like taking any medication, there are associated risks.

Your medical history and age may increase your risk of certain long-term side effects.

Your physician will advise you on the safety and risks of oral contraceptives. If you have concerns, it’s important to discuss them with your provider. 

Here are some of the most common long-term effects of birth control.

Cancer

Studies have found that birth control pills could increase your risk of some cancers, while providing protection against others. 

In an analysis of over 150,000 people with vaginas, those who had used oral contraceptives had a 7% increased chance of developing breast cancer compared to those who had never used birth control pills.

According to Cancer.gov, people who have used oral contraceptives for five or more years have a slightly higher risk of cervical cancer

However, the good news is that birth control pills have been shown to lower your risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer.

Blood Clots

Those who take COCs are at an increased risk of developing blood clots.

If you have a history of blood clots or are a smoker, the risk is even higher.

Out of 10,000 individuals taking COCs, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that approximately 10 will develop a blood clot after a year on the pill.

But the ACOG reported that the risk of developing a blood clot on oral contraceptives is lower than the risk of developing one during pregnancy or postpartum. 

Migraines

If you have a history of migraine headaches, you may experience worse headaches while taking oral contraceptives.

Birth control pills containing estrogen may also increase the risk of stroke in those who have migraines with aura. 

If you have a history of migraines, inform your doctor before starting birth control pills.

Mood and Libido

Many people experience an increase in their libido (sex drive) around the time of ovulation.

Since birth control suppresses ovulation, you may notice a decrease in their sexual desire while taking the pill.

Some also report mood swings. These may be more common in those who have a history of depression.

Each person has a unique response to various types and brands of oral birth control, tolerating one type better over another.

Heart Attack

Taking birth control pills may increase your chance of a heart attack.

The risk is very low if you don’t smoke or have underlying risk factors for heart disease.

Fertility

The impact birth control may have on fertility is a concern for anyone who wishes to become pregnant in the future.

Fortunately, birth control, regardless of the type, doesn’t influence the return of your fertility after stopping birth control.

Types of Long-Term Birth Control

There are many options for long-term birth control.

If you’ve had a negative experience with oral contraception, there may be another option that works for you.

Decide which method is best for you by speaking with your doctor.

IUD

An intrauterine device (IUD) is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

The small, T-shaped device is inserted into the uterus by your medical provider.

Progestin IUDs release a small amount of synthetic progestin to prevent pregnancy.

Copper IUDs make the uterus inhospitable to sperm.

These devices can also serve as a form of emergency contraception when inserted within five days after unprotected sex.

IUDs are forms of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs).

Depending on the type of IUD you get, they can last 3-12 years before needing to be replaced.

Since they’re reversible, your provider can remove your IUD if you want to try to conceive.  

Reversible options

  • Oral contraceptives
  • Vaginal ring
  • Implant
  • Diaphragm
  • Contraceptive patch
  • Contraceptive injections

Permanent options

  • Tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied)
  • Vasectomy (male sterilization)
Have questions about birth control? Ask a provider through K Health.
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When to See a Medical Provider

Speak with your doctor about the risks and advantages of birth control.

Your age, medical history, and preferences will be factors to discuss when deciding on a method of birth control that’s right for you.

If you have birth control side effects that last more than 2-3 months, consider switching to another method of contraception.

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Long-Term Effects of Birth Control?
Long-term side effects of birth control are rare. Your age, previous health problems, and tobacco use may increase your risk for long-term side effects. These effects can include blood clots, heart attack, cancer, migraines, and mood swings.
Can Birth Control Damage Your Body?
Complications from using hormonal birth control are uncommon. Using a combination pill, or any other contraceptive method containing estrogen may put you at an increased risk for heart attack, cancer, migraines, blood clots, or stroke.
Is it Okay to Be on Birth Control for Years?
Many people use birth control for decades without negative side effects. If you’re healthy and a non-smoker, it’s generally safe to continue taking birth control pills as long as you need them. Make regular appointments with your healthcare provider to discuss how you’re tolerating your chosen birth control method.
What are the Negative Effects of Birth Control?
In the first few months of starting birth control pills, you may experience breast tenderness, headaches, nausea, irregular periods, and weight gain. Birth control methods using spermicide have been linked to urinary tract infections.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.