Medically reviewed by Dr. Betty Acker, MD on November 17, 2020
Birth control, aside from just preventing unwanted pregnancy, can have other effects on the body, some welcome (such as lighter, less painful periods), and some unwelcome. Although most people who take hormonal birth control do not experience unpleasant side effects, there are some who say that it increases their anxiety levels.
There is no solid research supporting the idea that birth control has an adverse impact on anxiety levels or emotional state in general. On the contrary, a 2013 study showed that hormonal birth control use may actually reduce depression among women, and other studies have pointed to the potential benefits that birth control may offer in terms of mood. Birth control keeps hormone levels relatively steady, meaning that women with mood disorders made worse by fluctuating levels of hormones may find that birth control is beneficial for their situation.
However, the relationship between birth control and mental health is very complicated, and no two women will have the exact same experience while taking birth control. If you’re worried about how birth control might affect your anxiety levels, here are answers to come common questions you may have:
How does hormonal birth control work?
Hormonal birth control is exactly what it sounds like: by altering the body’s levels of naturally occurring sex hormones — estrogen and progestin, or progestin only — it greatly decreases the probability of getting pregnant. It prevents ovulation from occurring, ensuring that no eggs become available for fertilization. The two hormones also thicken the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg, and thin the lining of the uterine wall.
Why does birth control worsen anxiety in some women?
The increased hormone levels can have impacts that go beyond the reproductive system. Added hormones have the potential to affect just about every part of the body, and the brain is no exception. Women who suffer from PMS will know this already: the body’s hormone levels change prior to menstruation, occasionally bringing about changes in mood or mental state.
Some studies have also suggested that birth control worsens feelings of anxiety in women who already suffer from mood disorders instead of causing the anxiety itself. Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that very few women will feel anxiety as a result of birth control. If you’re concerned about the effects that hormonal birth control may have on you, talk to your doctor.
Are there birth control methods that won’t make anxiety worse?
Only 4 to 10% of women who take the birth control pill report adverse mood symptoms as a result — a figure relatively consistent across other methods of hormonal birth control.
There are, however, non-hormonal methods of birth control available that are less likely to interfere with mood. Condoms, diaphragms, and copper IUDs are all highly effective methods of hormone-free birth control that women looking to avoid the potential of added anxiety may want to consider.
What are other birth control side effects?
The hormonal changes brought about by birth control can also inspire a number of other side effects besides anxiety, such as:
- Changes in the menstrual cycles
- Tenderness of the breasts
- Intermenstrual spotting
- Changes in mood
The side effects are generally rare, and those that do appear tend to go away after several months of use. As the body gets used to the increased hormone levels, the side effects will become rarer and less severe.
There are a handful of side effects that are extremely unlikely to appear but can be an indicator of a more serious issue. If you experience any of the following side effects while on birth control, contact a medical professional immediately:
- Severe pain in the chest or stomach
- Difficulty seeing, blurry vision, or visual apparitions
- Severe headaches
- Pain and swelling in the legs
Most women who take birth control will find that the adverse effects are few and fully manageable — if they even appear at all. Still, it can be difficult to know beforehand what the right choice may be. If you’re still unsure, contact one of our experts here at Nurx today to learn about what options may be available to you.