Birth control pills’ advantages besides preventing pregnancy

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Birth control pills’ advantages besides preventing pregnancy

Ever since the first oral contraceptive, Enovid was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960, birth control pills have been the most popular method of birth control in the United States.  When taken correctly, birth control pills are effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies of up to 99.9%.  

But for the 11.2 million American women who use this for birth control, only about 14% use them strictly for preventing the conception of a baby.   Up to 58% of women however, use birth control pills for other reasons besides their main use as a contraceptive.  Birth control pills can and do have other benefits women can take advantage of that should be discussed with their gynecologist.  Here are some other reasons why a woman may take a birth control pill besides for preventing a pregnancy:

·      To regulate periods and make them less painful

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days but for many women, average doesn’t always happen.  Some women may have problems with irregular menstrual bleeding, absent bleeding where they have no period in a 90-day cycle, heavy menstrual bleeding or light menstrual bleeding.

Many factors can mess with the monthly cycle from weight gain, medications, stress, and other health conditions making it hard to know when the time of the month will come around. 

Birth control pills can be used to make periods more predictable.  Most birth control pills work by taking 21 days of hormone-containing pills, followed by seven days of placebo pills.   During the seven day absent from hormone-containing pills is when the break from the synthetic hormones triggers bleeding that mimics a period. 

Painful periods are another issue many women will experience each month.  This is often due to increased levels of the hormone prostaglandin which is produced in the uterus.  Secondary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that develops later in women who have had normal periods and is often related to problems in the uterus or other pelvic organs such as endometriosis.   Birth control pills can help reduce the amount of prostaglandin that the body is producing which helps to prevent the lining of the uterus from thickening resulting in a lighter, less painful period.

·      Clears up problem skin

For women with skin breakouts, birth control pills may not only prevent pregnancy but may also have the side benefit of clearing up their acne-prone skin.   For many women with acne, the problem is often due to a hormone called androgen that is at a higher level than it should be making skin oily and acne prone.  A doctor can prescribe a combination birth control pill containing both estrogen and progestin that work by lowering the body’s levels of androgen that can result in clearer skin.

·      May lower risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer

Research has shown women who use the pill are less likely to develop ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.   The longer a woman takes the pill, the less likely they are to develop this deadly disease.  A research review published in Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at 55 studies and found that women with an average risk who used oral contraceptives reduced their lifetime risk of ovarian cancer by 40 to 50%. 

Another study looked at hormonal contraceptives and endometrial cancer risk, the fourth most common malignancy among women in the US, and found that hormonal contraceptives dramatically reduced the risk of this disease. 

·      Reduces symptoms of endometriosis

Endometriosis is when there is an abnormal growth of endometrial cells that normally form inside the uterus but instead are forming in a location outside of the uterus.  It is not known what causes it and it is believed to affect around 5 million women.  Many women with the condition will have no symptoms but symptoms can include pelvic that worsens during menstruation, painful intercourse, heavy periods, and infertility.

By taking an oral contraceptive, the symptoms of endometriosis can be lessened since the hormones in the pills slow the growth of the tissue leading to the symptoms women can experience.

·      Potential treatment for menstrual migraines

A migraine is an intense type of headache that affects almost 30 million Americans – 75% of them being women.  Up to 60% of women who get migraines associate the timing of them with their period.  Migraines can be triggered by a drop in estrogen, which occurs during menstruation.  Taking an extended-cycle birth control pill can help with stopping hormonal ups and downs. 

Relief from PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder among women.  It can lead to irregular periods along with excess facial hair, acne, baldness, and weight gain.  Birth control pills are often recommended by doctors as a way of helping to control the symptoms associated with PCOS.  Since irregular periods are the most common symptom of PCOS birth control pills force a woman’s body into a regular cycle by releasing hormones into the body to create a more regular menstrual cycle due to their combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin.

By mimicking the hormonal cycle of pregnancy, birth control pills can potentially benefit PCOS by regulating the menstrual cycle, increasing fertility, reducing acne, decreasing menstrual pain and bleeding and lowering the male hormone of testosterone.      

·      Allows freedom to control menstrual cycle frequency

Having a menstrual period is a fact of life for women in their child-bearing years. Today, however, it doesn’t have to be.  Most packs of birth control pills come with a week of placebo pills that don’t contain any hormones. They are meant to keep a woman in the habit of taking a pill every day.  It is during the time when a woman taking these placebo pills that she will get her period.

However, if there is a planned vacation or other event coming up, a woman can skip taking the placebo pills and instead start a new pack.  This allows her the freedom to control when she gets her menstrual cycle.