Birth Control Pills Myths and Truth

Do Birth Control Pills…?

Birth control pills have been around for a long time. And with each new pill that has been introduced over the years, a myth has also been introduced as far as their side effects and efficiency. So we decided to get the facts and list them here for a clearer understanding of just what is fact or fiction when it comes to your body and birth control pills.

Myth: The Pill makes you gain weight.

Truth: It’s true that some women seem to gain weight on the Pill, but research has shown that it isn’t attributable to pill use. Interestingly, one study that followed college students who went to the student health clinic for birth control showed that no matter which birth control method was chosen (the Pill, condoms, etc.), there was an average weight gain over the year of about 5 to 10 pounds.

In fact, studies have shown that women often begin taking the Pill during a time of life that typically coincides with weight changes, giving the Pill an undeserved reputation for adding pounds.

Myth: Birth control pills cause cancer.

Truth: Actually, the Pill prevents some cancers. Clear evidence shows that combination oral contraceptive pills provide protection from cancers of the ovary and uterus. The protection against ovarian cancer is especially impressive–a decrease in lifetime risk by about 50 percent. Some experts are already recommending that all women take the Pill for at least five years, solely to protect themselves from ovarian cancer in the future.

Women with strong family histories of ovarian cancer particularly benefit from taking the Pill. Most experts do not believe that the Pill increases the risk for any type of cancer. There is a lot of debate about the role that postmenopausal estrogen treatment plays in the risk of breast cancer, but the majority of research says taking estrogens before menopause does not predispose a woman to breast cancer.

Myth: The Pill causes blood clots.

Truth: While this statement truthful, it’s often misunderstood and causes undo worry. Just like the hormone changes of pregnancy, the hormone changes brought on by birth control pills increase a woman’s chance of getting blood clots in her legs (deep venous thrombosis, or DVT) or lungs (pulmonary embolism, or PE). For Pill users who are not prone to blood clots, however, this risk is negligible; in fact, the risk posed is actually less than that incurred by pregnancy.

Some families are particularly susceptible to blood clots for genetic reasons. If members of your family have had venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, or have needed to take blood thinners, be sure to tell your doctor when discussing your birth control options. Since the estrogen component of the Pill is what’s believed to be responsible for the increased risk of clots, women who want hormonal contraception but cannot take estrogen due to this risk usually can safely use the Mini-Pill or a progestin-only injectable or implantable contraceptive.

But again, you must weigh the risk versus rewards of any contraceptive. Recently there has been a flurry of cases involving the Bayer AG patented Essure product that was supposed to be a safe alternative to other invasive forms of birth control. After the first Essure lawsuit, thousands of women have come forward with their own problems.

Myth: Smokers cannot take the Pill.

Truth: If you smoke, you run an increased risk of having a stroke whether you take the Pill or not. Until the age of 35, the risk of stroke is entirely attributed to cigarettes. After age 35, however, the combination of smoking and taking the Pill does seem to lead to a much greater chance of stroke.

Most physicians will not prescribe combination oral contraceptive pills for smokers beyond that age. The bottom line is that smoking is a lot more dangerous to your health than taking birth control pills is, and it’s always best to quit the cigarette habit.

Oral contraceptive users who turn 35 and are unable or unwilling to quit smoking usually can switch to the Mini-Pill or a progestin-only injectable or implantable contraceptive.

Myth: The Pill causes birth defects.

Truth: Even if a woman accidentally takes the Pill through early pregnancy, it has not been linked to any type of birth defects.

Myth: You should take a break from the Pill every once in a while to give your body a break.

Truth: There are no health benefits associated with going off the Pill–only an increased risk of unintended pregnancy. Experts say the Pill can be taken for 5, 10, even 15 or more years in a row, without any known increased risk.

Myth: You shouldn’t take birth control pills if you’re over 40.

Truth: Healthy women who have normal blood pressure and are not at increased risk for heart attack or stroke can take the regular low-dose pills until menopause. The Pill can be particularly helpful for perimenopausal women in their mid- to late 40s who are having heavy or irregular periods.

Myth: The Pill is generally bad for your health.

Truth: Here’s a reality check: It’s actually safer to take the Pill than to have a baby. Furthermore, most women who use oral contraceptives will enjoy more health benefits than health risks. The Pill not only diminishes the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers, but it also decreases the incidence of ovarian cysts, acne, excess facial and body hair (hirsutism), low blood (anemia), and days lost from work or school due to menstrual cramps.

Without question, for many women, the quality of life is better on the Pill than off it.

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