Birth Control Side Effects Guide

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • There are a variety of choices when it comes to birth control.  One type of birth control is the use of hormonal contraception or "the Pill."  You take the Pill orally, and when used correctly, it is up to 99.9% effective in preventing a pregnancy.  The Pill (the patch and the vaginal ring) contain varying amounts of estrogen and progestin, which inhibit the normal cycles of hormones a woman has.  This results in the egg not releasing from the ovary.  Additionally, your cervical mucus will change, making it less optimal for the sperm to reach the egg.  Hormonal contraception also can make the lining of the womb less hospitable to a fertilized egg implantation.  A recent addition to oral contraception is the birth control pill, Seasonale, an extended-cycle pill.  You take a hormone-containing pill daily for 12 weeks, and then take one week of inactive pills, allowing for a 7 day period.  If you use Seasonale, you will menstruate four times during a year's time.

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    There can be side effects associated with the Pill.  The most common complaints are:

    • Weight gain
    • Nausea
    • Sore, swollen breasts
    • Spotting between periods
    • Lighter periods
    • Mood swings


    Additionally, there is an acronym, ACHES that describes another set of possible side effects. They include:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Chest pain
    • Headaches (severe)
    • Eye problems (blurry vision)
    • Swelling and aching in the upper and lower legs


    These side effects are worrisome and could be signs of a more serious disorder like liver disease, gallbladder disease, stroke, blood clots, high or escalating blood pressure and even heart disease.  If any of these complaints occur, talk to your doctor immediately. 

    Hormonal contraception is probably not a good choice if you are over age 35, or if you have a personal or family history of:

    1. Blood clots
    2. Serious heart/liver disease
    3. Breast or uterine cancer


    Other hormone based contraception like NuvaRing have a list of side effects that can include: Abdominal cramps, allergic rash, bloating, blood clots, breakthrough bleeding and spotting, breast secretions, change in menstrual flow, changes in the breast such as tenderness or enlargement, dark pigmentation of the skin, decreased milk production in nursing mothers, depression, emotional instability, gallbladder disease, headaches, heart attack, high blood pressure, intolerance to contact lenses, liver disease, liver tumors, migraine headaches, missed periods, nausea, problems with the ring, sinus inflammation, stroke, swelling, temporary infertility after discontinuing NuvaRing, upper respiratory tract infections, vaginal inflammation or discharge, vision problems, vomiting, weight gain or loss, yeast infections, yellow tint to the skin (source, PDR 2008)  It's important to understand that all side effects, even if they occur in very few users, must be reported, so the above list might have side effects that occur very infrequently. 


    The other class of contraception that does have the potential for side effects are the IUDs or intrauterine devices.  A small plastic device containing copper or synthetic progestin is inserted inside your uterus.  Potential side effects include:

    • Nausea
    • Acne
    • Headaches
    • Pelvic cramping/pain
    • Breast tenderness
    • Increased bleeding during menstruation
    • Mood changes


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    If you choose to use a barrier method of birth control with spermicidal jelly, some women (and men) have reported local sensitivity or skin reactions to the ingredients of the spermicide.  If that occurs, check with your doctor.



    For more information, be sure to check out:

    Types of Emergency Contraception

    What You Can Expect After Taking the Morning After Pill

    Emergency Contraception: How Much Do You Know About the Morning After Pill?

    The Morning After Pill

    Understanding the Risks of an IUD

Published On: May 11, 2009