Popping a daily birth control pill can feel empowering. You’re taking your reproductive health into your own hands and hopefully avoiding a surprise pregnancy. Perhaps you’re even using the pill to help manage a chronic medical condition, so you stay healthy and feel your best. But as time passes, you might start to wonder whether it’s safe to keep taking the pill every day. Many women take this form of birth control for much of their adult lives without a break, so it’s worth considering what kinds of effects the pill can have in the long run.
Whether you’ve been on the pill for years or you’re just thinking about trying it, Nurx is here to help. In addition to making it easy to get a contraceptive prescription online, Nurx has put together this guide to the long-term effects of the birth control pill.
Birth Control Benefits
Image via Flickr by nateOne
If you’re taking birth control pills consistently for many years, it can actually be good for your health in a number of ways. Perhaps the most exciting benefit of long-term pill use is a decreased risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer. The longer you take the pill, the lower your risk is for both cancers. It’s not known exactly how this type of contraceptive lowers the risk of certain cancers, but one possible explanation is that it decreases the number of ovulations a person has over their lifetime.
Some women worry that the pill has decreased their fertility when they experience irregular periods the first few months after they stop taking the pill. However, another benefit of long-term birth control pill use is that it does not affect your fertility. In fact, you can get pregnant right after you stop taking it, even if your regular period doesn’t come back right away.
Birth Control Risks
The time when you’re at the highest risk for negative side effects of the birth control pill is actually the first few weeks that you’re taking it. This is when a patient might suffer from mysterious headaches, leg pains, or chest pains that could potentially indicate a serious reaction. But if you’ve been on the pill for at least a year and haven’t experienced any related health problems, you should be fine to keep taking it for as long as you need.
As for long-term effects, there is mixed evidence in regard to the way that the birth control pill may increase the risk of certain cancers. The hormones in birth control may make you slightly more likely to develop breast cancer, but this increased risk disappears once you’ve been off the pill for 10 years. There are other studies that haven’t been able to find any link between birth control pills and breast cancer.
You may also be more likely to get cervical cancer if you take birth control pills for five or more years, with the risk increasing the longer you use them. The risk goes back down over time when you stop taking the pill. Since most cervical cancers today are caused by the human papillomavirus, you don’t have to worry as much about this type of cancer if you’re regularly being screened for HPV and practice safe sex (remember, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections).
Blood clots are another concern with long-term birth control pill use. The combination pill (which includes both progesterone and estrogen) has been linked to an increased risk of developing a blood clot. People who smoke are generally advised to use another form of birth control since they are especially at risk for this adverse side effect.
When considering long-term risks of taking the pill, it’s important to compare those risks to the ones you’d experience if you had an unintended pregnancy. For example, you may have a slightly increased risk of developing a blood clot when taking the birth control pill, but your risk of getting a blood clot would be even greater during pregnancy. Many women find that they’re willing to undertake the minor long-term risks of birth control in order to reliably prevent pregnancy.
Alternatives to the Pill
For most women, the birth control pill is safe to take for as long as they need to, even if that spans multiple decades. However, there are some lifestyle and health concerns that may increase the risks of taking the pill. The combination birth control pill is not recommended for smokers over 35 (you can take progestin-only mini pills instead with your doctor’s approval).
In addition, the pill is generally not recommended for women who have had certain health problems, including blood clots, breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, uncontrolled high blood pressure, migraine headaches with aura, or severe diabetes or liver disease. Nurx can put you in touch with a doctor who can discuss your health history to determine if the pill is right for you.
Fortunately, there are several alternatives to the birth control pill that are also safe to use for many years at a time, including the patch, ring, implant, and IUD. If you prefer something that’s non-hormonal, consider copper IUDs, diaphragms, or condoms. If you’re done having children or don’t wish to give birth at any point in the future, you may want to look into surgical sterilization.
There are many reasons why the pill continues to be one of the most popular forms of birth control decades after it was introduced. It’s safe for the vast majority of women to take for long periods of time and provides reliable protection against pregnancy. If you think the pill might be a good fit for you or you’re looking to explore other contraception options, let Nurx make the process easier with our online prescriptions that include birth control sent straight to your home.
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