The birth control pill has been used as contraception by women for over five decades, and today’s birth control pills contain much lower dosages of hormones than in the past. When you are prescribed the birth control pill, it is very important that you read the patient information leaflet that comes with your pills to get specific information about your particular formulation of pill. If you have questions, you should always speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

For most women, the birth control pill is quite safe. However, some women should not take the pill.

Specifically, you should not take the pill if you have any of the following health issues:

  • Known or suspected pregnancy
  • History of heart attack or stroke
  • Blood clots in the legs, lungs, or eyes.
  • A history of deep vein blood clots in the legs
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Breast cancer, cancer of the uterus, cervix or vagina.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes) during pregnancy or during a previous use of the pill
  • Liver tumor

In addition, if you have any of the following health issues you should consult with your health care practitioner about whether the pill is appropriate for you:

  • Diabetes
  • Breast nodules or cysts, or an abnormal result on a breast x-ray or mammogram
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Migraine or other headaches
  • Epilepsy
  • Mental depression
  • Gallbladder, heart or kidney disease
  • History of abnormal or irregular menstrual periods or unexplained vaginal bleeding.

Women who smoke cigarettes are advised not to take the pill because their risk of serious cardiovascular side effects is increased. This risk sharply increases after age 35. If you smoke, speak to your health care provider about what birth control method would be best for you.

SIDE EFFECTS OF BIRTH CONTROL PILLS

 

Women sometimes experience side effects from taking the birth control pill. Most of these side effects are minor and some clear up within the first few cycles of taking the pill. If you experience undesirable side effects, contact your health care practitioner about switching to a different formulation of the pill.

Minor side effects may include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Fluid retention
  • Change in mood
  • Breakthrough bleeding

If these side effects do not improve after two or three cycles of taking the pill, speak to your health care practitioner.

While serious problems do not happen often, the pill does raise the risk of rare major side effects in some women.

Major side effects may include:

  • Development of blood clots (in legs, lungs, or eyes)
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Benign liver tumors
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Possible increase in cervical cancer risk

Factors that increase the risks of serious side effects include being older than 35, smoking, or having high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.

The pill also has some short- and long-term health benefits.

Beneficial side effects may include:

  • More regular and lighter periods
  • Less painful menstruation
  • Reduction of premenstrual symptoms
  • Reduced risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer

Certain formulations of the pill, such as the 24/4 low-dose combination pill, also improve the condition of skin and hair, minimize acne, and reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and bloating.

Remember – You should always read the Patient Information material provided with your pills before you begin taking them. If there is anything you do not understand, or if you have any concerns, you should contact your health care provider.