Birth Control Side Effects You May Not Know About
Birth control is an area of the pharmaceutical industry that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Part of this is because contraceptives have largely been framed as a “woman’s issue”, despite the fact that family planning involves people of all genders.
Even if it was just a woman’s issue, women’s health matters for the health of society, so this is an issue that should be talked about, studied, and invested in much more than it currently is.
Why it Matters?
When I first started visiting my previous general practitioner, I wasn’t on birth control because of doctor and insurance changes. I told my doctor I wanted to start taking birth control again, and he basically said “what does that mean?” I’m still not sure what he meant by that. He knew what birth control is.
It’s possible he meant “what kind of birth control?” but a better way to phrase that would be “do you have a specific kind in mind or would you like me to run through your options?” Since that’s not what he said, I just blurted out that I wanted the pill, he prescribed me a random one, and I continued to take it for years.
But hormonal birth control is really a horrible idea for a lot of people, especially when, like me, they come from a family with a history of high blood pressure and reproductive health issues. Likewise, many other birth control options have negative side effects that are rarely discussed.
I think this is because general practitioners see it as a daily medication that doesn’t treat a particular illness, but rather simply regulates the body’s functions. As long as it works, the side effects aren’t a big deal because the goal is being reached.
Looking at It More Closely
But many people have their health and fertility negatively impacted by the contraceptives that are chosen for them. Below are some common contraceptive options (for people of all genders) and what you should know about them before you make your decision on what type of contraception you use.
Despite the popularity of the phrase “on the pill,” there is no one blanket birth control pill people refer to. There are many brands of birth control pills, but they fall into two main categories: combination pills with estrogen and progestin, and progestin-only pills.
Progestin and estrogen are both hormones. Though your body already produces estrogen, both the progestin and estrogen in birth control pills is synthetic (man-made). Adding these hormones can have countless side-effects, including acne, sharp pains in the abdomen and pelvic regions,, and raised blood pressure.
These side effects can also be passed on through breast milk, so anyone considering birth control while wanting their current children to experience the health benefits of breastfeeding should be aware of the risks.
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are physical implants inserted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. They can be made of copper or plastic and be hormonal or nonhormonal. The side effects of the hormones are along the same lines as the side effects from the hormones in birth control pills.
But the physical presence of IUDs themselves can cause severe pain, particularly if the device slips out of place or expels itself from the body. For more information, see these side effects of Mirena, an IUD manufactured by Bayer, who also manufactures the pills Yaz and Yasmin, all of which are subjects of FDA complaints and potential class action suits.
If an IUD is not properly fitted or placed, even a perfectly-functioning device can cause abdominal cramps and pelvic pain. Some people experience worse symptoms during their periods or sexual intercourse, like my friend who has noticed spotting after she has sex, but before she looked up her symptoms online was afraid her IUD wasn’t working.
Diaphragms are not talked about a lot today, as they have fallen from popularity, and therefore are no longer being produced by as many companies as in the past. A diaphragm is a silicone cup that is placed into the vagina to cover the cervix.
It is used in conjunction with spermicide, which blocks sperm from reaching eggs. Diaphragms require a bit of planning and preparation, putting a damper on spontaneous sex. They are simply not as convenient as other forms of birth control.
Diaphragms can also cause urinary tract infections and vaginal irritation. But they are one option for people who don’t want to use hormones or have a long-term implant.
Essure is a non-reversible form of permanent birth control that involves soft inserts being implanted throughout the vagina, cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes. Though doctors have recommended it for families sure that they are done procreating, it has had resounding negative results, including ectopic pregnancies, pelvic pain, and migration and perforation of the inserts throughout the reproductive system.
There is also nickel in essure, which can cause itching and rashes for those allergic. There has actually been a bill calling for essure to be banned, as many women have experienced severe health complications resulting from the implantation and sometimes failure of the device. Many doctors are now recommending removal of essure, though this will not reinstate fertility.
Condoms are like diaphragms for penises. They set a physical barrier to prevent sperm from contacting eggs. Most condoms also include spermicide. Condoms are much quicker to apply than diaphragms, as well as being easier to remove. They do not come without side effects though.
Anyone with skin sensitivities needs to be very careful with the condoms they choose, as most are made from latex and treated with some form of lubricant. This can cause rashes and skin irritation, which can lead to infections.
Vasectomies are experiencing a period of popularity due to their effectiveness, ability to be reversed, and relatively low amount of side effects. A vasectomy is an out-patient surgery where two tubes called vas deferens are cut in order to prevent sperm from getting into semen.
Short-term side effects of vasectomies include aching pain, light bleeding, and swelling. Long term side effects include increased risk of heart disease and prostate cancer. Both of these areas require more study in order for direct correlations to be made.
Current Birth Control Research
Traditionally, birth control has mainly been targeted at people who can get pregnant rather than those who can impregnate others. Currently, there is more research being done on this, and a lot of it involves nonhormonal, reversible options.
The two options that have gotten the most press are a removable gel that can be injected in the vas deferens to dissolve sperm and an implantable switch that can be used to turn sperm production on and off.
Of course, none of these will be available until they can be properly researched, and side effects can be determined and mitigated if possible.
Any form of contraceptive is going to have pros and cons. This is just an introduction into the common side effects of some of the most common birth control options. Hopefully this inspires you to do your research and talk with your medical advisors about the best contraceptive option for you.
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