What are the side effects of oral birth control?

Oral birth control – “the pill” – is the most popular form of birth control in the U.S., and for good reason. It’s easy, convenient, and can reduce PMS, menstrual bleeding, and cramps. It can also have negative side-effects, though, and since it is in such widespread use, new users may not be expecting them. Oral birth control works by using hormones to prevent ovulation and conception, and the addition of these hormones can cause hormonal side effects. Some side effects are both pretty short-term and pretty harmless, and usually go away within the first few months of use, while others can last longer or cause serious problems, and might be a good reason to talk to your healthcare provider about changing your prescription.

Short-term side-effects

  • Breast soreness: Breast soreness or tenderness is generally a fairly common and normal reaction, but if it becomes severe, it’s probably a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider about it.
  • Spotting or breakthrough bleeding between periods: One of the most common side-effects, about half of the women on the pill experience some spotting, which usually goes away in the first 3 months on the pill.
  • Nausea: Nausea is another fairly short-term side-effect, and can often be avoided by taking the pill with food. If nausea associated with the pill is severe, or doesn’t go away over the course of the first few pill packs, consider consulting your healthcare provider.

Warning signs of negative side-effects

  • Breast lump
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fainting
  • Vision problems
  • Yellowish skin (jaundice)
  • Headaches
  • Seizure
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • Mood swings

If you notice any of these side effects, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider. Hormonal birth control works great for some, while others experience considerable side effects. You should keep an open dialogue with your healthcare provider about whether oral birth control is right for you.

  • Truven Health Analytics Inc. “Estrogen And Progestin Oral Contraceptives (Oral Route).” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Apr 1 2015. Web.
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