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Common, Yet Not So Common Side Effects Of Oral Contraceptive Pills

Oral contraceptives (OC) or birth control pills are used to prevent unintended pregnancy. These pills usually contain two artificial hormones: progesterone and oestrogen. Sometimes, these hormones may cause side effects to some people and may become a cause for concern, however, in the majority of people, the side effects are mildly to not present.[1]

Therefore, a better understanding of oral contraceptives and related factors like when, how, under what circumstances and by whom these pills should be taken are very important to prevent the side effects and get their maximum benefits in preventing pregnancy.

In this article, we will discuss some of the common side effects of all types of oral contraceptives: combined oestrogen-progesterone, progesterone-only and emergency contraceptive pills.

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1. Headache

This is commonly the first symptom when you start on oral contraceptives. In patients with migraines, the pills, especially combined pills, can trigger the pain and cause excessive discomfort, while discontinuing them can improve the symptoms. Though the relationship between birth control pills and headache are not yet established, some studies do say it occurs due to the estrogen contained in the pill. Consult your doctor if the pain continues for long and switch to another formulation. [2]

2. Mood changes

According to a study, 50 per cent of women on hormonal pills discontinue them after six months or a year due to side effects like mood changes and depression. Though these symptoms vary from person to person depending on their general emotional state, the pills can fluctuate the mood up to a certain extent. Other factors like underlying disease, fear of side effects, sexual dissatisfaction and misinformation about OC pills could also be the cause of mood changes while on oral contraceptives. [3]

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3. Abnormal uterine bleeding

Abnormal uterine bleeding is also a common side effect of OC pills and could be dangerous in rare conditions. Though light spotting is often observed in patients, the abnormal uterine bleeding a few days could occur due to multiple reasons when on pills and are diagnosed by understanding the thorough history and full physical examination of the patient. This is a normal side effect experienced during the first three months of taking birth control pills. Also, pregnancy and the misuse of oral contraceptives could be the frequent causes of abnormal uterine bleeding. [4]

4. Breast tenderness

Breast tenderness or enlargement is common among women between the age group of 16-30 years, says a study. Along with other side effects, the relative risk of occurrence of breast tenderness is 1.2, which is least compared to hirsutism, nausea and abnormal bleeding. The symptom is often experienced around the menstruation timing and once you start bleeding, the pain and tenderness may decrease. [5]

5. Decreased sex drive

Oral contraceptives are widely used by women for fertility control, however, sometimes they may affect sexual functioning by decreasing the sex drive or causing low libido. The rate is however very low as around one or two in 10 individuals are affected. Experts say that factors like existing physical and psychological problems such as sexual abuse, chronic mental health condition, endometriosis and relationship conflict could be the primary cause of a decrease in sex drive, and not the OC pills alone. [6]

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6. Disrupts ovulation

A contraceptive pill is intended to control ovulation and fertilisation and prevent the fertilisation of an egg and sperm to avoid pregnancy. When women are on birth control pills for longer, sometimes, after discontinuing them, the return of fertility may take time in some women. Some may miss the date or get it before time (a week before or a week later). Therefore, women may experience disruption in ovulation for several months depending on person to person. [7]

7. Nausea and motion sickness

Nausea and motion sickness is prevalent in most women after starting OC pills. They are not at all a serious side effect and could easily be managed with simple home remedies. Some women may confuse it as a sign of pregnancy. However, there is no need to be worried about as oestrogen in the pills can irritate the stomach and make you nauseous. [8]

8. Menstrual cramps

Heavy bleeding and menstrual cramps are common among women who are on birth control pills. Even after a few days of taking the pill, women can suffer from menstrual cramps. This could be due to disruption in the ovulation which may cause cramps for some time. The cramps, sometimes, may aggravate during the periods. Excerpts say that such conditions, a hot compress or drinking hot water may help ease the pain.

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9. Yeast Infections

According to a study, oral contraceptives may lead to the recurrence of symptomatic vulvovaginal candidiasis caused by yeasts due to an imbalance of hormones. The infection may cause vaginal soreness, abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal itching and vaginal dryness. [9]

10. Eye Problems

A study has shown that the occurrence of eye problems related to the consumption of OC pills is 1 in 230000. The symptoms may include dry eyes, corneal oedema, lens opacities and other ocular problems. This could probably be due to dehydration causing the ocular nerves to weaken and high oestrogen leading to alterations in corneal thickness. [10]

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11. Blood Clots

Oral contraceptives may cause venous thromboembolism or blood clots in some, especially in women who are smokers, overweight and over the age of 35. This side effect is not so common and occurs in combination with many other factors. [11]

To Conclude

It is important to be aware of the side effects of the oral contraceptives you are on and treatment methods to deal with them if they occur, followed by consulting a medical expert in case of an emergency.