Positive and Negative Side Effects of Birth Control

Image of a package of birth control pills

If you are taking the pill, you may be wondering about birth control pill side effects.

How Does the Birth Control Pill Work?

The pill contains a combination of estrogen and progesterone. By regulating the dosage of these hormones, ovulation does not occur. Ovulation is the movement of an egg out of the fallopian tubes in preparation for fertilization. Most forms of the pill also thicken cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to enter the cervix and reach the fallopian tubes. In addition, some forms of the pill make implantation of the fetus into the uterus less likely.

The pill is up to 99.7 percent effective in protecting against pregnancy. However, it does not protect against STDs or HIV. In addition, antibiotics and drugs for epilepsy or tuberculosis can reduce the effectiveness of the birth control pill. There is also some research that suggests St. John's Wort may reduce effectiveness of the pill as well.

Birth Control Pill Side Effects

About 40 percent of women experience some birth control pill side effects during the first three months of use. After the first three months, however, side effects generally seem to stabilize.

Mild Negative Side Effects of the Pill

  • Irregular menstrual bleeding
    • Missed periods
    • Spotting between periods
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood changes
  • Increase in vaginal infections

For the most part, these symptoms are mild to moderate. However, these side effects can be bothersome. Contact your care provider if you have any questions or are truly bothered by these birth control pill side effects. You may simply need a different prescription.

Serious Negative Pill Side Effects

There are a few serious side effects to the pill. These side effects are extremely rare and include:

  • Blood Clots
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Worsening of migraine headaches
  • Gall bladder disease
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • A rare liver tumor

Women are most at risk for the above birth control pill side effects if they:

  • Smoke
  • Are older than 35 years old
  • Have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart or vascular disease or blood cholesterol and triglyceride abnormalities

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be having a serious negative side effect to your pills. Contact your care provider immediately.

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath/tightness in the chest
  • Severe headache
  • Vision problems such as flashing lights
  • Severe leg pains

Positive Side Effects of the Pill

Not all of the side effects of the pill are bad though. In fact, many women are put on the pill to help with cycle problems rather than to prevent pregnancy. Positive side effects of the pill include:

  • Lighter menstruation
  • Reduction of cramps
  • Improvement of acne
  • Protection against non-cancerous breast growth
  • Reduction in anemia and ovarian cysts
  • Less risk of uterine cancer
  • Less risk of infection of the fallopian tubes (pelvic inflammatory disease), which often leads to infertility
  • Less risk of ectopic pregnancy
  • Less rheumatoid arthritis
Positive and Negative Side Effects of Birth Control