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What Are the Side Effects of Combination Birth Control Pills?

As with any form of birth control option, the side effects of combination birth control pills varies among women. Common side effects are typically mild and similar to symptoms that you will experience during your menstrual cycle if you weren’t on birth control. Some of the more common side effects of combination birth control pills include:

  • Spotting and breakthrough bleeding – Breakthrough bleeding, or bleeding between expected periods, is a common side effect that, in most cases, rectifies itself within the first three months. This can happen as a result of the body adjusting to the hormones. If the pill is taken properly, spotting between inactive pills will not reduce the effectiveness.
  • Nausea – Some women will experience nausea, especially when first starting on combination pills, as their body adjusts to the new hormone levels. You can reduce nausea by taking your pill with food or scheduling your dosing before you go to sleep.
  • Tender breasts -When taking the pill you may notice your breasts become more sensitive and may feel fuller. This usually occurs in the first couple of months and can be alleviated by reducing salt and caffeine intake.
  • Headaches – Some users experience headaches or an increase in migraines when starting the pill. This is usually caused by the dosing, and a lower dose option may be better.
  • Weight gain – Weight gain and water retention are possible side effects of combination birth control pills, especially around the breasts or hips.
  • Decreased sex drive – Some women will experience decreased libido related to the levels of hormones in the pill. If the problem becomes troublesome, different dosing can be tried.
  • Elevated blood pressure – The estrogen in combination pill control pills can lead to elevated blood pressure. This should be evaluated and not expected to improve on its own. Women with high blood pressure are often prescribed progestin-only pills or other forms of contraceptive.

If you experience any of these side effects, rest assured that they usually go away within 1-3 months as your body gets used to the hormones. 

Major side effects are rare with combination birth control pills but should be watched for. Combination birth control can lead to heart problems, gall bladder or liver disorder, and blood clots. Smoking can increase many of these problems and is not recommended when taking combination birth control pills.

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The symptoms to really look out for include severe abdominal pain, severe chest pain with cough and shortness of breath, sharp pain upon breathing in, severe headaches, dizziness, weakness, or numbness (especially if one-sided), vision loss or blurring, slurred or garbled speech, and severe leg pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, then you should seek medical care right away and tell the health care provider you are using birth control.

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