Insomnia, bone thinning, increased risk of health problems and a decline in mental health—all of which have been associated with birth control use. The impact of these more severe side effects have been downplayed or dismissed by many.
While birth control was created to prevent pregnancy and combat other health problems such as ovarian cysts, heavy and irregular periods, pelvic inflammatory disease and certain types of cancer, hundreds of women are affected by the severe side effects of which may have a long-lasting impact on their overall health.
Birth control pills allow women to control when they get their period and protects them for a month. They contain hormones that prevent the release of eggs and increase the cervical lining in order to “block” the entrance of sperm. While most women only experience side effects for a few months, others are affected long-term. Common side effects include: acne, increased blood pressure, melasma, insomnia, fluid retention, mood swings and depression. Health risks associated with pills include: blood clots, gallbladder disease, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and cancer (liver, breast and cervical). These health risks are associated with long-term use, meaning the longer the pills are taken the higher the risk.
Contraceptive implants are placed under the skin of the upper arm and offer protection for up to three years. It thickens the cervical mucus and lining while simultaneously suppressing ovulation. The implant is said to be ineffective for women whose BMI is above 30 and may be affected by use of other medications commonly used to treat health problems such as epilepsy. Common effects include: increased risks of ovarian cysts, mild insulin resistance, mood swings, depression, interaction with other medications, and vaginal inflammation. After insertion one may experience: breast lumps, blood clots, jaundice, infection, and site pain or bleeding. Cause for removal include: migraine with aura, heart disease, stroke, uncontrolled high blood pressure, jaundice and severe depression.
Depo-Provera is a form of birth control that is injected in the stomach or glute area every three months. The shot suppresses ovulation and thickens the cervical lining. Common effects include: temporary bone thinning, severe depression, migraine with aura; pus, pain or bleeding on the injection site; and jaundice. Risks include: permanent bone density loss for women who have reached menopause and prolonged use. In some cases, women who become pregnant while taking Depo have been shown to deliver babies with a low birth weight, leading to the need for monitoring in the NICU.
The birth control patch is placed on the skin every three weeks and offers protection during those three weeks. Use longer than three weeks provides no protection. In the fourth week, the patch will be removed to allow for menstruation. The patch prevents ovulation and thickens the cervical lining. The patch may be ineffective for women who smoke, weigh more than 198 pounds, have a history of severe health problems such as: heart attacks, high blood pressure, cancer, jaundice, unexplained heavy vaginal bleeding, and diabetes complications, and/or are over 35 years of age. Side effects include: increased risk of health problems, muscle spasms, skin irritation, acne, diarrhea, vaginal infections, fatigue, and fluid retention.
Nearly all forms of birth control may cause heavy and irregular periods, nausea and migraines, breast and back pain, decreased sex drive and weight gain. Birth control is not guaranteed to prevent pregnancy and may lead to ectopic pregnancy if the woman does get pregnant while using birth control.
Overall, it is important for women to know the side effects of the birth control form that they are using, monitor themselves for signs of the more severe side effects, speak to a provider concerning changes in their physical and mental state, and change their form of birth control if it becomes harmful to them.
Every woman’s body is different and one form of birth control for one woman may not work for another. Despite criticism from others, it is paramount that women do what is best for themselves both physically and mentally. Break the silence surrounding women’s health and contraceptives.