Since first introduced in the 1960s, the birth control pill ("the pill") has been a popular and extremely effective form of contraception. The pill is easy to use and, when taken correctly, it is 95% to 99.9% successful at preventing pregnancy. But, as with any medicine, there are both risks and benefits.
What Are the Risks of Taking the Pill?
Oral contraceptive pills can increase your risk of developing blood clots in the veins in your legs. These can become life threatening if the blood clots leave your legs and travel into you lungs. The risk of blood clots is increased more in people who smoke.
There are different kinds of birth control pills. Some are combination pills, with estrogen and progestin, while others are "mini-pills" with just progestin. Estrogen may affect triglyceride levels and total cholesterol levels—increasing HDL "good" cholesterol and decreasing LDL "bad" cholesterol. Progestin, though, may cause "good" cholesterol to lower and "bad" cholestorol to rise. But, for most women, these changes in blood levels are not strong enough to have a poor effect on your health.
High Blood Pressure
Taking birth control pills may increase the risk of high blood pressure. This risk may be greater if you have other conditions, like being overweight, having a family history of high blood pressure, or smoking. If you take birth control pills, your doctor will check your blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about other contraceptive options.
Women aged 35 or older who smoke heavily and take birth control pills have an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke. You may have an even greater risk if you have other risk factors (eg, family history of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure). If you want to take birth control pills, you should first quit smoking, since smoking increases your chance of developing many other health problems.
Taking birth control pills for many years may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, like cervical cancer and liver cancer. Researchers are still investigating the link between birth control pills and breast cancer. Some studies have found that there is an increased risk, while others studies have come to the opposite conclusion. It is important to remember that there are many other risk factors for cancer. If you are at high risk for breast cancer (eg, having certain types of genes or a family history) or other types of cancer, talk to you doctor about the best contraceptive for you.
What Are the Benefits of Taking the Pill?
While the pill may increase the risk of some types of cancer, it can also decrease the risk of other types of cancer, like ovarian and endometrial cancer. Studies have found that the more years a woman takes the pill, the better her protection. In addition, researchers are investigating whether birth control pills decrease the chance of developing colorectal cancer.
Taking birth control pills may reduce your risk of:
Heavy bleeding, irregular periods, painful periods, and menstrual cramps
(a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus, particularly in the fallopian tubes)
There are many different types of birth control pills on the market. You and your doctor can decide which kind is best for you, or if a different contraceptive option would be a better choice. Just keep in mind that the pill does not protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Schneider HP, Mueck AO, Kuhl H. IARC monographs program on carcinogenicity of combined hormonal contraceptives and menopausal therapy.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. SOGC position statement: the birth control pill and cancer. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada website. Available at: http://www.sogc.org/media/guidelines-oc_e.asp. Updated February 19, 2008. Accessed June 8, 2010.
Victory R, et al. Adverse cardiovascular disease outcomes are reduced in women with a history of oral contraceptive use: Results from the Women’s Health Initiative Database [abstract].
Fertility and Sterility.
4/9/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Beral V, Hermon C, Kay C, Hannaford P, Darby S, Reeves G. Mortality associated with oral contraceptive use: 25 year follow up of cohort of 46 000 women from Royal College of General Practitioners' oral contraception study. BMJ. 1999;318:96-100. Hannaford PC, Iversen L, Macfarlane TV, Elliott AM, Angus V, Lee AJ. Mortality among contraceptive pill users: cohort evidence from Royal College of General Practitioners' Oral Contraception Study. BMJ. 2010 Mar 11;340:c927.
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provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
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