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
- Bloating and weight gain
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Each person has a unique response to various types and brands of oral birth control, tolerating one type better over another.
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.
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.
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.
- Oral contraceptives
- Vaginal ring
- Contraceptive patch
- Contraceptive injections
- Tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied)
- Vasectomy (male sterilization)
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.
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Breast cancer and hormonal contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of individual data on 53 297 women with breast cancer and 100 239 women without breast cancer from 54 epidemiological studies. (1996).
Current Contraceptive Status Among Women Aged 15–49: United States, 2015–2017. (2018).
Estrogen and Progestin (Oral Contraceptives). (2015).
Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk. (2018).
Risk of Venous Thromboembolism Among Users of Drospirenone-Containing Oral Contraceptive Pills. (2012).
Risk of venous thromboembolism with oral contraceptives. (2011).