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Oral contraceptives are hormonally active pills taken by women to prevent pregnancy, regulate their menstrual cycles, and reduce menstrual pain and mood swings. In addition, studies suggest that taking contraceptive pills can reduce the risks of contracting ovarian and uterine cancer. Some pills may also be used to treat acne. However, taking contraceptive pills is not a preventive measure against sexually transmitted diseases.

How They Work

Contraceptive pills contain the female sex hormones estrogen and progestin, which work by preventing ovulation, or the release of egg cells from the ovaries. Thus, they are also called birth control pills. They also alter the uterine lining and the mucus found at the cervical opening in order to prevent egg development and sperm entry, respectively.

Side Effects

Just like any type of medications, birth control pills have side effects. Prior to taking these medications, consult your doctor and inform him of your medical history, most especially if you have asthma, high blood pressure, kidney, liver, and heart diseases, stroke, breast cancer, and diabetes.

Women who are taking medications or have certain medical conditions, including but not limited to high blood pressure, severe heart conditions, and liver disease are at higher risk of contracting side effects when using contraceptive pills. In addition, those who smoke, are overweight, or are aged over 35 years are also not advised to use oral contraceptives. This medication may also stunt pregnancy, even long after its last consumption.

Side effects of using pills, although not frequently-occurring, must be reported to a doctor immediately to avoid further complications. Many of these are due primarily to the estrogen content of the pills, and include:

  • dizziness, headaches, migraines, and lightheadedness

  • nausea

  • stomach upset and bloating

  • diarrhea or constipation

  • changes in appetite

  • weight gain or weight loss

  • dark skin patches

  • hair growth in unusual areas

  • hair loss

  • depression and other sudden emotional changes

  • development of breast lumps

  • soreness and swelling of the breasts

  • painful and heavy vaginal bleeding in between menstrual cycles

  • formation of blood clots, which may also bring about other symptoms:

    • in legs: pain in the calf, leg cramps, swollen legs and feet

    • in lungs: shortness of breath, sharp pains in the chest, coughing up blood

    • in eyes: sudden loss of vision

  • increase in cholesterol levels

  • increased blood pressure

  • symptoms of heart attack, such as chest pain and heaviness

  • symptoms of stroke, such as changes in vision or speech, numbness in the limbs, severe headaches

  • signs of liver damage: yellow eyes and skin, dark urine, abdominal pain

  • allergic reactions: hives, itching, unexplained rashes and swelling, wheezing, difficulty breathing and swallowing

When to Call Your Doctor

Serious side effects from birth control pills are not common, but if you experience the following, contact your healthcare provider immediately:

  • severe abdominal pain

  • chest pain

  • severe headache

  • blurring of vision

  • aching and swelling of the legs and thighs

These symptoms could indicate serious complications such as gallbladder disease, liver damage, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, or blood clot formation.

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