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What You Need to Know Before Popping the Pill

| Articles | January 15, 2014

In August of 1960, Enovid, the first contraceptive pill, was launched for sale in the USA. The mass-marketing of the drug was so successful that within one year of the product’s launch, over 1 million American women were using it. It was a revolutionary breakthrough in contraception. Pharmaceutical companies that made the drug promised to give women control over their reproductive cycle and free them from unwanted pregnancy. What the manufacturers failed to emphasize were the many and varied side-effects of birth control pills. Mental and physiological conditions experienced by women while using “the Pill” were downplayed by the pharmaceutical companies, and much of the literature accompanying the drug packaging inferred that many of these negative side-effects could not be directly attributed to the contraceptive pill.

The Pill is the most popular type of birth control. However, women should be extra cautious before popping the Pill. Currently, there are many different brands of the pill and they come in packs of 21 or 28 pills. One pill is taken every day. The first 21 pills have a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormones. The Pill stops ovulation, preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs. It also thickens cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to enter the uterus. The hormones in the pill prevent fertilization. Some women may not be able to take the pill because of the risk of serious health problems. Women who are over 35, those who smoke, or who have any of the following conditions below should not take the pill:

History of heart attack or stroke

Blood clots

Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Known or suspected cancer

Known or suspected pregnancy

Liver disease

As the body adjusts to hormonal changes created by the pill, women often experience some minor side effects, including:

Irregular bleeding or spotting

Nausea

Breast tenderness

Weight gain and/or water retention

Spotty darkening of the skin

Mood changes

Side effects of birth control pills usually disappear after 2-3 cycles. Depending on risk factors, women on the pill should have their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar regularly monitored. Women who already have diabetes, high blood pressure, or raised cholesterol levels should thoroughly discuss the use of the pill with their doctor before starting on it. Certain kinds of migraines may make sufferers more at risk of strokes. Women with severe, frequent headaches should first consult a doctor before using the said contraceptive drug. The pill has been known to slightly raise the risk of both certain benign and malignant liver tumors, although these are rare. This drug has also long been suspected as a potential stimulant of breast cancer, although studies have yielded conflicting results. The current consensus seems to be that using birth control pills leads to a slightly higher risk of breast cancer, especially in women who start on the pill before the age of 20, although for all other women the risk of breast cancer drops to that of a non-user 10 years after a woman discontinues using the pill. Although long-term users of the pill may have a slightly higher rate of cervical cancer, the reason may have nothing to do with the drug’s effects on the user’s hormonal production. Rather, women who use the drug are much less likely to use barrier methods of birth control and thus leave themselves more open to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that raise the risk of cervical cancer.

It had been hoped that manufacturers and physicians can lower the side effects of birth control pills, studies have shown that newer pills are no safer for cardiovascular health than the second generation of pills. It is always safe to ask a health care professional before making a decision as to which birth control method is the right one for you. They can help make the birth control decision based on your personal concerns and lifestyle as well as your medical history. Ask your health care provider any questions especially regarding the side effects of birth control pills, as you may have concerns on any serious complications of a birth control method and the risk factors that are relevant to your case. Being aware of your medical options and alternatives can only benefit your health in the long run.

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