Birth Control Pills: Side effects, Risks, and Alternatives

Birth control pills, the most common form of preventive pregnancy are oral contraceptives taken before or immediately after intercourse. Not only do they help in preventing pregnancy but also in resolving various issues such as irregular menstruation, acne or even premenstrual syndrome.

As per statistics, around 15 to 20% of women use these contraceptive pills. These pills prevent pregnancy by impacting the ovulation cycle so that no eggs are produced, thus leaving no scope for fertilization with sperm. However, given the number of risks and side effects involved with the same, their usage has considerably reduced and are only taken when advised by the doctor.

These pills contain synthetic form of hormones. While few of these pills have either estrogen or progesterone, there are certain pills that contain both of these hormones. At times our body takes time to adjust with the external intake of these hormones and doesn’t respond well to the same leading to the side effects.

Let’s have a look at the risks and side effects associated with the birth control pills:

Side Effects of Birth Control Pills

1. Nausea

When you start taking these pills you may experience nausea, but after a while when your body will get used to these pills the effect of nausea will subsidize. However, if it continues for more than three months, you must seek medical assistance.

2. Spotting

While you start taking these pills, breakthrough vaginal bleeding is a common side effect. The bleeding happens because of changes happening in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Usually, it lasts for less than three months. However, if bleeding continues for regular five days seeking a doctor’s help becomes imperative.

3. Headache

Adjusting to the external intake of hormones is not that easy, and an increased level of hormones may lead to headaches and migraine.

4. Increased weight

Over the years, it has been observed that women taking such birth control pills tend to put on weight. However, clinical studies have not found any link between the same. Because of the external intake of synthetic hormones, fluid starts retaining in the body especially around hips and breasts leading to weight gain.

5. Mood swings

Imbalance in hormones have a huge impact on mood fluctuation. Oral contraceptive pills can increase the chance of depression and stress.

6. Effect on libido

This one is not a common symptom but yes, in some people these contraceptive pills can affect sex drive. The synthetic hormones present in these pills can lead to decrease in libido thereby disturbing sex life. However, in some cases, it may also increase the sex drive.

7. Irregular periods

Even if you are using these birth control pills regularly, chances are that your menstruation cycle may get irregular. It is recommended to take a pregnancy test if you have missed your periods as these pills are not 100% effective. However, if you are not pregnant and your periods are irregular, then you must seek medical assistance without any delay.

8. Vaginal discharge

While taking these pills, you may also experience changes in vaginal discharge. It may increase or decrease depending on how your body is responding to the external intake of synthetic hormones.

Different pills have different levels of hormones and thus they trigger different side effects. However, these are short term side effects and with time as the body gets used to changes, the consequences of these side effects start subsiding.

Not only do these pills have side effects but also pose certain risks in some cases. One must consult a doctor before starting the intake of these medicines especially:

  • Those above age of 35
  • Those who are obese
  • Those with heart problems
  • Those having migraine issues
  • Someone who has a history of blood clot in the family
  • Someone with a medical history of cancer especially breast cancer

Risks involved with Birth Control Pills

1. Cardiovascular issues

Pills with both estrogen and progesterone can increase the chances of cardiovascular problems. Any issue related to heart be it attack, stroke or even a clot can prove to be fatal. Not all pills have the same level of risk but the high dosage can always lead to such long term side effects, therefore one must not start taking these pills without doctor’s recommendation.

2. Risk of developing cancer

According to some studies, excessive estrogen in female’s body can develop into a certain type of cancer. Hence when taken orally, it increases the chances of developing cancerous cells in the body. If these pills are taken after a certain age, chances of cancer increase. Breast cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer are common form of cancers that one can contract if these pills are taken continuously and that too without doctor’s recommendation.

Both of these are long term side effects and hence are termed as risks. One must be really cautious with the intake of these pills.

Myths Vs Facts

Myth 1- Contraceptive pills can cause infertility

This is the most common myth regarding intake of contraceptive pills. However, there is no negative effect of these pills on fertility.  There is a delay in pregnancy after stopping these medicines because it takes at least 3 to 4 months for the effect of pills taken over a long time to subside.

Myth 2- Birth control messes up the body

No medicine comes without side effects and same is the case with birth control pills. However, contrary to the myth that it messes up the female’s body, the side effects are short term and effects of the same subside eventually with time.

Myth 3- Affects the body once you stop taking these pills

Once you stop taking these contraceptive pills, it takes time to get back to your normal reproductive cycle. The first period after you stop taking pills will not be a natural one and is usually called withdrawal bleeding. But eventually your body will return to its usual cycle.

Myth 4- Prevents Sexually transmitted diseases

These pills in any way cannot prevent sexually transmitted diseases; the only way to prevent the same is to use condoms.

Women must stop taking these pills after they turn 50 as the chances of getting naturally pregnant by this age decreases. However, women who crossed 35 must consult a doctor before taking these medicines.

Alternatives to birth control pills

For women who refrain from taking these contraceptive pills, there are various other options for birth control that they can opt for:

1. Condoms

After contraceptive pills, condoms are other most commonly used birth control measures that are easily available. Condoms are available for both males and females, male condoms are to be placed over the penis, whereas female condoms are like a pouch which has to be inserted in the vagina. The only side effect is that the latex used in making these condoms can cause allergy to some individuals. Also, like contraceptive pills, even condoms are not 100% effective.

2. Copper T

It is a T-shaped device inserted through the vagina and is placed in the uterus. It prevents sperms from entering the uterus to fertilize with female eggs. This device can be placed for as long as 10 years and is 100% effective. In case, a woman plans to conceive in between, she can always opt for removal of the same at any point in time.

3. Sterilization

If you don’t want to plan a child, then a small surgery can be carried out in both males and females. In males, tubes are cut from where sperm travels and in women, surgery is done to block the fallopian tubes.

4. Diaphragm

It is a dome-shaped cup, placed in the vagina in order to block the cervix to prevent sperm from meeting the egg. However, it is usually not preferred as it can cause irritation and can also cause urinary tract infection among women. Also, it is not 100% reliable.

No matter which contraceptive you plan to take to prevent pregnancy, it is recommended to consult the doctor. Looking at your age and medical history your gynecologist is the only person who can guide you the best.


Also recommended

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Does Birth Control Make You Fat? Most Important Answer is Here

6 Safe and Natural Birth Control Methods- Including Consuming Ayurvedic Herbs

Birth Control and Weight Gain – Remedies and Substitutes


I define myself as a voracious reader and an avid writer. I firmly believe that reading non-fiction has played a vital role in honing my writing skills. And when I am not writing, you will find me in trekking Himalayas/ Sahyadris or on a backpacking trip exploring the unexplored places.

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