Health Benefits and Risks of Oral Contraceptives

Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are hormonal medications that prevent pregnancy.
Today women have many options in birth control pill. They vary from packages of 21, 22, 24 or 28 days. OCP may contain combinations of the hormones estrogen and progestin or progestin alone.There are different types of combination that are referred to as "monophasic," "biphasic," or "triphasic. Most birth control pills are packaged as 21-day or 28-day units. For 21-day packages, tablets are taken daily for 21 days and followed by a seven-day period during which menstrual period will occur. Then the cycle repeats. For the 28-day units, tablets containing medication are taken for 21 consecutive days, followed by a seven-dayperiod when placebo tablets (containing no medication) are taken.

Advantages or benefits of OCps

  1. Effective birth control: is a very effective form of family planning, allowing women and their partners the ability to select the best time to start a family. The pill has a 1% failure rate (meaning less than 1 out of 100 women unintentionally become pregnant) when used correctly
  2. Different pills are available to fiteach woman. For example, progestin-only versions of the pill exist if you are breast-feeding or unable to use estrogen due to medical reasons
  3. Some women take OCps to reduce menstrual bleeding, irregularities or cyclical menstrual symptoms as cramps and pain.   OCps may also decrease menstrual flow (number of bleeding days and amount of blood loss) by 60% or more.Additionally, it can help women toavoid menstrual periods if the women take "active" pills for a longer period of time.
  4. Studies have shown the birth control pill leads to lower rates of pelvic inflammatory disease and cancer in the uterus and ovaries.
  5. It hasalso shown that taking three consecutive packages of 21 called  "tricycling" is safe for women who want to have fewer menstrual cycles throughout the year. It consists of taking three consecutive packages of 21 active pills and, after 63 days (three cycles), taking placebo or no pill for 7 days to allow for a period (withdrawal bleeding) before starting another cycle of pills.  With this method, some women experience reduced premenstrual and menstrual symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and headaches.
  6. Some birth control pills can help to prevent sudden mood changes during a woman’s cycle due to changing hormone levels. Acne or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) may improve with some birth control pills.
  7. Other advantages: Ectopic pregnancy and iron-deficiency anemia, are decreased with OCP use.  Iron-deficiency anemia is reduced because OCP decrease the length and amount of menstrual flow.

Risks and Disadvantages Of OCPs

It varies from common side effects to serious conditions. The choice of OCPs is individual for each woman.

  1. Some women have serious medical conditions, should not use OCPs.
    • As history of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, unexplained vaginal bleeding, liver tumors or disease, increased clotting or stroke risk, or if pregnant.
  2. Otherswho are at higher risk for side effects due to age or smoking status, should discuss with their health care provider before taking pills.
  3. Women of any age should avoid combination hormonal birth control if they have a history of uncontrolled high blood pressure, chest pain, diabetes, and severe headaches. Cardiovascular risks increase with age, weight, family history of heart disease, and number of cigarettes smoked per day (>15 per day).
  4. OCPs can lead to a higher risk for blood clots, heart attack, and stroke in women who smoke, especially if they are over 35 years of age.It is important to have a regular checkup with the doctor when using the birth control pill.
  5. Common side effects:
    • Spotting between periods
    • Possible weight gain or fluid retention
    • Breast swelling or tenderness
    • Nausea or upset stomach
    • Mood changes
  6. Serious Side:
    • Blurred vision
    • Severe stomach pain
    • Severe headache
    • Swelling or pain in the legs
    • Chest pain, heart attack, blood clots, stroke
  7. SomePills can cause breast pain or vaginal dryness.
  8. It does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Only a condom can protect from sexually transmitted diseases.
  9. The pill has a < 1% failure rate meaning less than 1 out of 100 woman unintentionally become pregnant if used correctly. However, for women who miss taking their pills, should take “extra protection” as condom.
  10. Some drugs may lower the effectiveness of birth control pills. Doctor orpharmacist should be informedabout it each time you have a prescription filled.
  11. Spotting may occur for the first few months of birth control use as the body adjusts to the changes in hormone levels.
  12. After stopping the pill, it may take few weeks to several months to restore ovulating again if pregnancy is desired.
  13. Few women may not have their periods after stopping OCP, they should inform their doctors and perform a pregnancy test. However there is no evidence that exposure to the hormones of birth control pills causes birth defects.
It is important to have a regular checkup with doctor when using the OCPs.