Weight gain, breast tenderness, headaches, mood swings — most women recognize these as common short-term side effects of birth control. But, what are the long-term side effects? Does there come a time when extended birth control use is not safe?
Long-Term Use of Birth Control
For most healthy women, birth control is OK for prolonged use, as long as a health care provider approves. In this case, women can take birth control throughout all their childbearing years, even until entering menopause.
However, taking medication is an individualized choice, and that’s why it’s important to have a medical professional’s guidance. If you don’t have a doctor you visit regularly and would like to explore birth control options, Nurx is a great place to start.
Birth control does carry long-term risks, and determining the safety of long-time birth control use depends on a person’s age, medical history, and unique risk factors. Doctors especially want to know if you’ve had heart disease or other cardiovascular problems and whether you smoke. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are also important risk factors for a health care professional to consider.
So, what are the long-term risks? The list below includes some you may have heard before, like certain types of cancer or cardiovascular problems. Those are the two most common long-term effects and are pretty well substantiated by research.
Some of the other long-term side effects may be new to you. While there are studies to back all the following risks, their associations with birth control are considered to be rare.
Research shows that hormones in combination birth control, including the pill, ring, patch, and implant, might increase the chance of developing breast, liver, and cervical cancer. Scientists believe that the progesterone and estrogen may stimulate the growth of some types of cancer cells. However, the National Cancer Institute reports that the studies linking oral contraceptives to cancer are not definitive.
Many studies have proven that combination birth control options — those with estrogen and progesterone — increase the possibility of blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis. And, blood clots can up the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. These health concerns are greater after the age of 35, and the risks are even higher for smokers.
Hormonal birth control is linked to nutritional depletion, particularly low levels of vitamins B-2, B-6, and B-12. These deficiencies can happen because the hormones interfere with the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. There is also some evidence that the hormones can cause oxidative stress, which is when the body is not able to properly expel waste.
Mood and Emotional Issues
Combination birth control has been associated with depression and anxiety, bringing about feelings of lethargy and sadness. Some women simply experience a general moodiness or perhaps feel as though they are in a fog. Remember the B-6 deficiency? It comes back into play here. A low level of vitamin B-6 has been associated with depression.
Estrogen is likely the culprit here because it can lead to a reduction in the body’s natural, good bacteria. That creates a breeding ground for yeast to grow, often in the vaginal area. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are itchiness, pain, and smelly, cottage cheese-like discharge.
Turns out, the hormones in birth control can cause the clitoris to decrease in volume, while also reducing the thickness of vulvar tissues. In addition, some women taking oral contraceptives report increased pain during intercourse.
Prolonged birth control use has been linked to a skin problem known as melasma, which causes brown spots to appear. It usually occurs on the face, though it can show up on other areas like the neck and arms. Women who have a family history of melasma are more likely to experience it as a side effect of birth control.
Research shows that estrogen and progesterone can play a role in the formation of gallstones. The additional estrogen, in particular, can increase cholesterol in the bile, thereby decreasing gallbladder movements and making it more difficult for the gallbladder to empty.
Some research suggests that obese women can be prone to developing diabetes when taking birth control for an extended time. The hormones in birth control can affect glucose levels. If blood sugar becomes too high and the body has trouble controlling those levels, diabetes can result.
Delay in Return to Fertility
Data shows that the longer a woman uses combination birth control, the more likely she is to experience a delay in her fertility returning. It could take a while for periods to come back — at all or on a normal schedule — and the time it takes to conceive could be double what it is for a woman who’s never taken birth control.
This point is tricky, though. A woman’s fertility naturally decreases as she ages. Therefore, it’s not terribly surprising that the longer you take the pill, the longer it could take to get pregnant when stopping. Years pass, with or without birth control.
Remember, most healthy women can successfully take birth control for as long as they feel it’s necessary without complications. It is extremely important to make informed decisions with the help of medical professionals who know your specific needs, family history, and risk factors. If you’re considering birth control through Nurx, our medical team can answer all of your questions about long-term effects and determine which method is right for you!