What are Birth Control pills, and What are Their Long-Term Side Effects?

What are Birth Control pills, and What are Their Long-Term Side Effects? Women's Health
July 8, 2022
6 minutes Read
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Did you know that the first rubber condom was made in 1855? These contraceptives came on the market in the 1860s but couldn’t compete with skin condoms because they weren’t as effective.

But, later, in the 1920s, the upgraded latex condoms became popular because they were easier to make. The advent of the condom was helpful for many, but extra protection in the form of a birth control pill was created later.

The history of this pill is anything but straightforward as it took some time to become accessible to the general public.

Regardless of the birth control pill’s history, one thing’s for sure: the invention of the oral contraceptive pill forever changed women’s lives.

In this read, we’ll cover the following topics (and more):

  • Pros and cons of birth control pills.
  • Long-term side effects of birth control pills.
  • Over-the-counter birth control pill.
  • Do birth control pills stop your period?

First, before diving into the above topics, let’s get a better understanding of the basics.

What are birth control pills?

A birth control pill is taken orally to prevent pregnancy. It’s a hormonal medication that regulates a woman’s menstruation cycle. And according to Cleveland Clinic, these pills can improve acne, treat endometriosis, and lower the risk of ovarian cancer.

While these oral pills relieve many from worrying about unexpected pregnancy, some fear the long-term side effects of birth control pills, so we’ll discuss these long-term issues a bit later.

How do birth control pills work?

The hormones in the pill prevent pregnancy because they:

  • Stop or decrease ovulation (when a woman’s egg is released from the ovary).
  • Thicken the cervix’s mucus to help stop sperm from penetrating the uterus.
  • Thin the uterus lining so a fertilized egg won’t attach as easily.

For a better understanding: A pregnancy begins with fertilization.

Fertilization is when a man’s sperm joins a woman’s egg. The connection usually occurs in a woman’s fallopian tube (which links the ovary to the uterus).

An embryo starts developing if the fertilized egg successfully travels down the fallopian tube and lodges in the uterus.

Main takeaway: Because a birth control pill works to thin the uterus wall, decrease or stop ovulation, and thickens a woman’s cervix mucus, it becomes more difficult for the sperm to fertilize an egg.

Is the birth control pill effective?

Cleveland Clinic explains that the pill is highly effective in preventing pregnancy, as it has the potential to be 99% effective if it’s taken properly. The pill is most reliable when it’s taken consistently and at the same time daily. Also, consistency helps keep your hormone levels stable with less fluctuation.

Remember that depending on the type of birth control pill you choose, the amount of hormones will vary. Some find the hormones hard to adjust to, while others don’t feel a change.

Later, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of taking the pill, but it’s worth mentioning that every woman leads a unique life with different scheduling demands. So taking the pill regularly every day isn’t always an easy-to-remember task.

Some tips to remember to take the pill include:

  • Set a recurring alarm on your phone.
  • If you’re with a partner who wants to be involved, have them set a daily alarm, too.
  • Use a period tracking app to keep you in tune with your body.
  • Use an app to remind you to take your pill.
  • Get into a daily habit. For example, take your pill with a glass of water as soon as you wake up.
  • Keep your pills visible so you remember.
  • Use a visual aid like a calendar and mark it daily.

What are different types of birth control pills?

What are different types of birth control pills?

The pill comes in two forms, and both contain hormones that prevent pregnancy.

The two kinds of the pill are:

  1. Combination pills: 
  • Contain progestin and estrogen.
  • Come in various combinations(depending on the hormonal dose best suited for you and how often you prefer to get your period).
  • Prevent a woman’s ovaries from releasing the egg.
  • Slow the egg’s travel within the fallopian tubes.
  • Thicken the cervical mucus.
  • Thin the endometrium (uterus lining).

These combined actions work to prevent a man’s sperm from joining the egg.

  1. Progestin-only pills:
  • Known as the minipill.
  • Doesn’t come with as many choices (Unlike the combination pills).
  •  Has a lower progestin dosage than a combination pill.
  • May subdue ovulation.
  • Reduces the speed at which the egg travels through the fallopian tube.
  • Thickens the cervix’s mucus.
  • Thin the endometrium.

Traditionally, the pill works on a month-long schedule. For example, a woman would take three weeks of hormone pills (active pills) and seven days of hormone-free pills (inactive pills). During the week of inactive pills, a woman usually has her period. And after it’s over, she’d start fresh with a new month of taking the pill.

Many women like having the inactive pills included in the pack because it:

  • Keeps up a consistent routine of taking the pill.
  • Is a visual reminder of when to expect their period.
  • Is a visual reminder of when to resume taking the hormonal pills.
  • Doesn’t cause any symptoms but serves as a tool to build a daily habit.

However, some brands only provide active pills and don’t include any inactive pills.

In this case, a woman must keep track of the days she’s off the pill to know when it’s time to resume birth control.

The pros and cons of birth control pills:

If you’re considering whether the pill is right for you, you’re definitely not alone. Oral contraceptive pills are some of the most popular forms of birth control, and for a good reason, they’re relatively convenient and effective. But they do come with some drawbacks.

What are the pros and cons?

Pros of taking the birth control pill:

The main reason for taking the birth control pill is most commonly to prevent pregnancy. Secondly, many women enjoy the ability to regulate their menstrual cycle. Some benefits include:

  • It’s 99% effective if used as directed.
  • It’s convenient and safe (check with your doctor before taking the pill or if symptoms occur).
  • It allows for sexual spontaneity
  • It can help your period be lighter.
  • It can reduce discomfort from period cramps.

Also, with combination pills, you can regulate the timing of your period (or even skip it altogether). Before doing this, speak with a trusted healthcare professional.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a combination birth control pill offers other health benefits and may offer protection from:

  • Acne
  • Anemia (iron deficiency which can result from a heavy period)
  • Excess body hair
  • Menstrual migraines
  • Non Cancerous breast growths
  • Osteoporosis
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (which remained untreated may lead to infertility).
  • Painful sexual intercourse and vaginal dryness

Also, studies suggest that the pill can reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer by 27%. It may also reduce the chance of developing endometrial cancer by 50%.

Although some research is promising, the pill isn’t a guaranteed way to avoid these types of cancer and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Rundown: The birth control pill has other benefits than pregnancy prevention. For instance, the pill can reduce period cramps and may reduce acne (among other things).

Cons of taking the birth control pill:

If you take the pill, you might come across some irritating side effects. On the one hand, many of these side effects will go away after a couple of months’ use of the pill when your body gets used to the hormones. On the other hand, they can feel uncomfortable when you’re not used to them.

Side effects may include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea (sometimes with vomiting)
  • Spotting (or bleeding between periods)

A combination birth control pill can also cause:

  • Decreased libido
  • Depression

Minipills can sometimes lead to irregular spotting between periods more often than combination pills.

Quite often, side effects are why people discontinue taking the pill. It can help to talk with your doctor to weigh out your options. You might consider another contraception method or try a new pill brand.

Are there long-term side effects of birth control pills?

Albeit rare, most types of birth control with estrogen can slightly increase your risk of developing particular health problems.

While there aren’t necessarily long-term side effects of birth control pills, more serious side effects of the pill are:

  • blood clots
  • gallbladder disease
  • heart attack
  • high blood pressure
  • liver cancer
  • stroke

Smoking and age can greatly impact how you react to the birth control pill, so talk with your physician to learn if it’s right for you.

If privacy is a priority, we get that! For a comfortable, accessible, and affordable healthcare option, consider downloading the Ravkoo Health App.

Once downloaded, you can access Ravkoo MD to:

  1. Book a doctor’s consultation for birth control.
  2. Confer with a physician from the privacy of your home.
  3. Receive a birth control prescription, if applicable, and have it fulfilled and delivered for free through Ravkoo Rx.

The birth control pill: Q&A

Q: Can you get an over-the-counter birth control pill?

A: At this time, getting an over-the-counter birth control pill isn’t an option as you require a prescription.

Q: Do birth control pills stop your period?

Specific birth control pill regimens are developed to stop bleeding for three months, which can go up to a year. But it’s also doable to stop your period with the continued use of a monophasic (single phased).

But if you’re wondering, “Do birth control pills stop your period?” talk to your doctor to figure out what works for you!

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