All females are aware that taking birth control pills has side effects such as how it affects your skin. For some it can clear problems like acne by stopping the extra oil being produced by the androgen hormone, but it is not all positive.
Birth control pills and patches, when used correctly, are very effective in preventing pregnancy. They are safe for most healthy women and can even be used to treat a few health problems. However, as with almost all drugs, there are unwanted side effects and risks.
Hormone-based contraceptives are available in many forms including pills (oral contraceptives), as a patch that is placed on the skin, implantable preparations among others. They all have about the same benefits and risks. To be effective, hormonal birth control use must be consistent. Skipping a day increases the chance of pregnancy.
Birth control pills and patches are dispensed only with prescription. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with typical use, about eight percent of women will become pregnant in their first year of taking the pill. If it is used perfectly (defined as the pill being taken every single day at the same time), the rate falls to only one percent. That potentially makes it a reliable method of birth control for very diligent women.
Neither the pill nor the patch protects against sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you are a healthy non-smoker, it is unlikely that you will have serious side effects from oral contraceptives. But here are some likely side effects of birth control pills.
Reproductive system
Ovaries naturally produce the female hormones, estrogen and progestin. One or both of these hormones can also be synthetically made and used in contraceptives.
They are higher than normal levels of estrogen and progestin which stops the ovary from releasing an egg. Without an egg, the sperm would have nothing to fertilise. The progestin also changes the cervical mucus, making it thick and sticky. That makes it harder for sperm to find its way into the uterus.
When using hormonal contraceptives, some women experience lighter and shorter periods and an easing of menstrual cramps and premenstrual symptoms. Use of hormone-based contraceptives decreases the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer and the longer that a woman takes hormonal contraception, the more substantial these decreases become. These therapies may also offer some protection from non-cancerous breast or ovarian growths. However, there is controversy regarding the possibility that hormonal contraceptives may somewhat increase the risk of breast cancer.
When you stop taking hormone-based birth control, your menstrual period will likely go back to normal within a few months. However, some of the cancer prevention benefits accrued from years of medication may persist over a long term.
Side effects of oral and patch contraceptives include loss of menstruation (amenorrhea) or extra bleeding. Some bleeding or spotting between periods can occur. Some women experience vaginal irritation, breast tenderness or breast enlargement. The hormones may also affect your sex drive.
Serious but uncommon side effects include heavy bleeding or bleeding that goes on for more than a week. Hormonal birth control may slightly raise the risk of cervical cancer, although researchers are unsure if this is due to the medication itself or if it is simply reflective of the increased risk of HPV exposure. HPV exposure is known to increase the risk of cervical cancer in sexually active women who are trying to prevent pregnancy.
Cardiovascular and central nervous systems
For some women, birth control pills and patches can increase blood pressure. Those extra hormones can also make it a little more likely that you will form a blood clot. That risk is substantially higher if you are a smoker or are over age 35. The risk of blood clots is also greater if you have high blood pressure, pre-existing heart disease or diabetes.
These side effects are uncommon in most women, but are potentially serious. That is why hormonal birth control methods require prescription and routine monitoring. There is increased risk of heart attack and stroke, particularly in smokers and women over age 35. Seek medical attention if you feel chest pain, cough up blood or feel faint. Severe headache, difficulty in speaking or weakness/numbness in a limb could be signs of stroke.
Estrogen may aggravate migraines, if you already suffer from them. Some women experience mood changes and depression when taking these contraceptives.
Digestive system
Some women experience changes in their appetite and weight while taking hormonal contraception. Other side effects include nausea and bloating.
There is an increased risk of benign liver tumour or liver cancer. If you have a history of gallstones, these contraceptives may lead to faster formation of stones. See your doctor if you have severe pain, vomiting, or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Dark urine or light-coloured stool can also be a sign of serious side effects.
Integumentary system (Skin, Hair, Nails)
For many women, this method of birth control can improve acne. Others may experience breakouts of acne or notice no change at all. It may also cause brown pigmentation of the skin.
Sometimes, these hormones cause unusual hair growth. However, oral contraceptives are also the main treatment for hirsutism, a condition that causes coarse, dark hair to grow on the face, back and abdomen.
Less acne
As if bleeding for a week isn’t fun enough, acne before or during a woman’s period is very common.
Women produce androgens too and just before menstruation, they trigger the body to produce extra oil.
Oil is good for your skin, but too much can clog your pores and cause pimples. Sometimes birth control can stop androgen from making excess oil, which means fewer breakouts [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. It has been so successful in doing so that the FDA has approved certain brands of birth control to treat acne [source: Mayo Clinic].
One brand of birth control may make you depressed but stabilise your best friend’s PMS mood swings and what clears up one woman’s acne may very well do the opposite to someone else.
For as many types of birth control pills as there are, there are just as many different ways that a woman’s body can react to them.
Hormonal birth control does affect androgen levels in the body, but it may not affect them the way you were hoping. It is possible that androgen levels could increase sebum production. It can take time for the body to get used to a new birth control pill, but if you can’t deal with the side effects, talk to your doctor about switching.
Dark patches
It is called “the mask of pregnancy,” but melasma affects plenty of women who aren’t with child. It is characterised by dark patches that appear on the skin that is exposed to the sun, often, the face. The “mask” part of the nickname comes from the fact that melasma usually covers the upper lip to the forehead and is symmetrical on both sides.
Melasma is associated with female hormones, which is why pregnant women, women taking oral contraceptives and women on hormone replacement therapy are most intimately acquainted with the brown discolouration.
Hair removal is a time-consuming and expensive beauty habit, but it is tougher for women with hirsutism. Hirsutism is the growth of coarse and dark hair on women in places you don’t usually expect it, the face, back, breasts and lower abs, for example. As self-conscious as a woman may feel, the condition is common. It is often caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome which triggers her ovaries to produce excess androgens, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Irritation and scarring
Birth control prevents pregnancy, but hormones aren’t something to take lightly, they can have all kinds of effects on your body, some of them good, some not so good.
Common negative side effects of hormonal birth control include spotting, headaches, breast tenderness, nausea and decreased libido. On the plus side, you can have lighter, shorter periods and decreased symptoms of PMS.
The problems
Unwelcome mat for sperm
Menstrual relief
Breast changes
Mood changes
Not a good mix
Hair, more or less
Hormonal changes
Egg stop sign
Surprising protections
Blood pressure
The migraine connection
Heart attack and stroke risk
Appetite and weight fluctuations
Acne, for better or worse

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