We’ve probably all heard it. “Don’t get on the pill! You’ll gain weight! What about your libido?” Deciding to start taking the birth control pill can be scary because of all the things we’ve heard. So, just how many of these heavily-warned side effects are true? Is the birth control pill safe? Most importantly, is it right for you?
There are different reasons people go on the pill. Some doctors prescribe it to treat heavy or irregular periods or severe acne. It’s most common use is to prevent pregnancies. The pill can be really helpful and great for some people! (Pro-tip: The pill lowers risk of ovarian and uterine cancer!)
But is the pill bad for us?
The answer is not so simple.
-Some argue that the birth control pill is unhealthy because it’s a synthetic hormone and messes with your body’s natural cycle.
-It has been proven that the pill causes increased risk of a blood clot, though experts are quick to assure that it’s less than that associated with pregnancy. According to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of obstestrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, the higher the dose of estrogen means higher risk of blood clots.
-What about the increased risk of stroke and heart attack? According to Dr. Minkin, if you’re a smoker and over 40 years old, there is an increased risk. Otherwise, if you don’t smoke and have normal blood pressure you’re pretty much in the clear.
-Should people on the pill be worried about breast cancer? The older pills with a higher dose of estrogen have been proven to have a higher risk of breast cancer, especially the longer one took it. However, according to ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, after about ten years of being off birth control the risk of breast cancer is about the same as someone who hasn’t been taking birth control. And the older pills with higher estrogen aren’t prescribed as often anymore.
-The birth control pill has been linked to depression and weight gain. According to Dr. Minkin there is data on a linkage to depression because of progestins in the pill which can cause mood fluctuations. She advises that if you have a history of depression, to keep track of your moods if you begin taking the pill. The issue of weight gain remains a little murky. The implant and the shot have a higher risk of weight gain. Generally, it seems that the pill could cause weight gain, but doctors say minimal.
-Now, what about your sex drive? The pill prevents ovulation, which can lower the boost of testosterone that occurs during ovulation. This can lead to a decreased libido. If you experience low libido or vaginal dryness, your doctor might suggest a progesterone-only option, instead of the estrogen-containing pill.
These are some of the main worries people have about birth control and its side effects. If you decide that the pill is the right method of contraception for you, you can visit your local Planned Parenthood health center to get a prescription or visit plannedparenthood.org to learn about all different types of contraception.