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Birth control pills have been widely embraced by women all over the world to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to treat different medical conditions They are an effective means of contraception, but they have their own inherent risks.

Although Birth Control Pills are an Effective Means of Contraception, They have Their Own Inherent Risks

  • The most commonly observed side effects with these pills are nausea, weight gain, tenderness in breasts, reduced flow during the periods, spotting in between the periods, vaginal infections, and mood swings.
  • Certain fetal abnormalities have been reported in about seven per 10,000 cases of exposure to birth control pills during pregnancy. These abnormalities include malformation of vertebrae, anus, kidneys, trachea, esophagus and limbs.
  • Increased incidence of jaundice has been noticed in newborns when the mother has taken oral contraceptives around the time of conception.
  • There have been instances of masculinization of female infants in around 3 per 1,000 cases of exposure to birth control pills, especially those containing norethindrone and norethynodrel.
  • Lactating mothers, who consume birth control pills containing estrogen, have reported diminished milk production, reduced weight gain by the infants, and a decrease in the protein content of the milk.
  • Women with a history of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease or high cholesterol taking birth control pills have a high chance of suffering from stroke in case they are smokers.
  • Sudden pain in abdomen, severe headache, chest constriction, difficulty in vision, severe headache, and swelling and pain in lower limbs are indicative of certain rare but serious side effects of pills which include blood clots, liver or heart disease and cancer of uterus or breast.
  • Concurrent use of medicines like antibiotics or anti-seizure drugs along with birth control pills can lead to a decrease in the efficacy of the latter. When used along with carbamazepine, Phenobarbital, phenytoin, primidone, rifampicin, etc, birth control pills may to prevent pregnancy because of their increased rate of elimination. Hence, women taking these medicines should opt for some other means of contraception.
  • Certain women may suffer from melasma while using birth control pills. It is a skin condition, where you tend to develop hyper pigmented patches on your body, especially on those parts which are exposed to sun.
  • Birth control pills containing estrogen inhibit the metabolism of medicines like Cyclosporine. This increases the level of drug in the blood and may damage the liver and the kidneys.
  • Estrogen increases the liver’s ability to produce clotting factors. Therefore, women who are taking medicines for blood thinning should change the dose of their medicine accordingly, in consultation with their physician.
  • Patients on dantrolene have an increased chance of developing liver damage if they take birth control pills concurrently.
  • Morning after pills are contraindicated in women with liver damage or those suffering from a condition called porphyria.
  • Certain women taking birth control pills suffer from a reduced sex drive.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Burkman R, Schlesselman JJ, Zieman M. Safety concerns and health benefits associated with oral contraception. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2004, 190(4 Suppl):S5–22.
  • Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Breast cancer and hormonal contraceptives: Collaborative reanalysis of individual data on 53,297 women with breast cancer and 100,239 women without breast cancer from 54 epidemiological studies. Lancet 1996, 347:1713–1727.
  • Marchbanks PA, McDonald JA, Wilson HG, et al. Oral contraceptives and the risk of breast cancer. New England Journal of Medicine 2002, 346(26):2025–2032.
  • Photo courtesy of Nate One on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/nateone/2713580189/