14 Most Dangerous Side Effects of Popular Birth Control Pills
You may preach an active, healthy lifestyle free of heavy alcohol use and smoking, but did you know your birth control pills might be a serious danger to your health? Millions of women each year depend on hormonal contraceptives to avoid pregnancy, and many also enjoy the benefits of shorter, lighter periods. While birth control can be an effective and easy way for women to manage their cycle, many don’t know that taking the pill each day can come with severe side effects, some even life-threatening. Here are the 14 most dangerous side effects of various birth control pills.
1. Blood clots
Even if you aren’t a smoker, you may be raising your risk for blood clots by taking birth control pills. Bottom Line Inc. explains studies have revealed birth control pills contain drospirenone, a synthetic form of progesterone, which may greatly increase your risk for blood clots. Yaz and Yasmin are two very popular brands of birth control pills commonly prescribed to women who also deal with hormonal acne, and they contain this synthetic hormone. Gianvi and Zarah have it as well.
These blood clots can happen in any artery or vein. Though they can sometimes dissolve on their own, they can also be life-threatening if they stop blood flow to the lungs, brain, or heart.
If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know just how debilitating they are. Some women find their headaches and migraines actually improve with birth control, but others aren’t so lucky. Healthline explains hormonal migraines are often caused by a drop in estrogen — thus, for those taking the combination pill, the condition typically improves. But this isn’t always the case. Because the combo pill offers 21 “active” hormone pills and seven placebo pills, that sudden drop-off of hormones on day 21 can really bring on the head pain.
3. Benign liver tumors
Oral contraceptives have been linked to an increased risk of developing benign liver tumors. Though benign tumors are noncancerous and typically do not pose many risks to your health, the types associated with birth control pills can cause serious problems for some women. The American Liver Foundation explains hepatocellular adenomas can occur, and could potentially cause abdominal bleeding. The hormones in birth control may also cause these tumors to enlarge over time. In this case, doctors sometimes wish to remove them surgically.
4. Vision issues
Find yourself reaching for your reading glasses more than usual? This could be because of your pill. Optometrist Beth Kneib tells Everyday Health birth control can cause your eyes to dry out, which can greatly affect your vision. This isn’t a super serious issue and can be helped by over-the-counter saline drops, but don’t let it go untreated. Having dry eyes leaves you more susceptible to eye infections, corneal ulcers, and inflammation, Mayo Clinic says.
5. Heart attack
We all know by now how serious heart disease is — it’s the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., after all. The bad news is your birth control may be contributing to the cause. The estrogen in your pill could be adding to your blood clot risk, which can then lead to a heart attack, the University of Colorado OB/GYN & Family Planning reports.
Here’s the good news — if you’re under 35, you’re at a healthy weight, and you don’t smoke, you’re probably in the clear. If you’re middle-aged and smoking, the FDA actually suggests you go for the progestin-only pill and avoid estrogen altogether. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at a much higher risk for heart disease.
Starting hormonal birth control pills can throw your body for a loop — both physically and mentally. Some women can link their depression to their birth control use, and it may not stop until they are off the pill. Heathline says studies suggest depression is the most common reason many women ditch the pill altogether, though a concrete link between hormonal birth control and depression still remains murky.
Some think women taking a combination pill, one that contains both estrogen and progesterone, are more likely to experience signs of depression than those who are taking a pill with just one hormone. Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Ortho-Cyclen are two popular types of birth control that actually list depression as a side effect in their package inserts. If you have feelings of sadness and anxiety and think your pill could have something to do with it, contact your doctor.
7. Gallbladder disease
While some specific types of birth control pills (like Yaz) may increase the risk of gallbladder disease more than others, MedPage Today explains there’s always some possibility of complications. Healthline notes gallstones can cause extreme pain, as they’re hard masses that form in your gallbladder. They can even block your bile ducts. If you’re experiencing severe stomach pain as well as nausea, vomiting, fever, or a yellow tint to the skin, head to the doctor.
8. Breast and cervical cancer
Studies have been trying to find a concrete link between birth control pills and cancer for years, and while nothing definitive has been found, studies have continuously reported higher risk of both breast and cervical cancer for those taking birth control pills. The National Cancer Institute explains naturally occurring progesterone and estrogen can influence certain cancers, so birth control pills deserve a certain amount of scrutiny. Interestingly, the risk seems to diminish over time once a woman ceases taking the contraceptive.
Blood clots are scary on their own, but they’re even worse when they block the blood supply to your brain. This situation is known as an ischemic stroke. And because some birth control pills increase your risk of blood clots, they also increase your likelihood of having a deadly stroke.
This meta-analysis shows those who take birth control pills that have both progesterone and estrogen are more likely to develop this disease, and that’s especially true for those who have pills high in estrogen. The American Stroke Association says even if you’re on a low-estrogen pill, you’re still twice as likely to have one compared to those who aren’t. Of course, your general health and age have a lot to do with it too, so ask your doctor about your risk.
10. High blood pressure
Though we talked about estrogen being the issue before when it comes to your heart, it’s progesterone that can cause your blood pressure to rise. Verywell explains progesterone has a direct effect on your small blood vessels, which can increase in pressure. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, especially for women, you’re at an increased risk. That doesn’t mean the pill is off limits — it usually just means your doctor will monitor you and switch you to a low-progesterone pill if necessary.
11. Decrease in milk production
After you give birth, you might consider going back on the trusty pill, but you’ll probably want to hold off until you’re done breastfeeding. WebMD says the estrogen in birth control can actually cause a decrease in your milk supply. This can make it harder to feed your baby if you don’t want to go the formula route.
Not into breastfeeding? Consider this: The estrogen-containing varieties make blood clots even more likely following the few weeks after birth. If you’re still hoping to get back on your birth control ASAP, ask your doctor about the progestin-only pills.
12. Yeast infections
Antibiotics are a common culprit for recurring yeast infections, but if you’re still struggling with the issue, it could be your birth control that’s to blame. Medical Daily reports Saul Weinreb, M.D., told Everyday Health an increase in estrogen can lead to an overgrowth of vaginal yeast. While an infection of this sort every now and then doesn’t seem like a big deal, you should be aware it can lead to serious complications. HealthCentral says when left untreated, it has the potential to get into the blood stream and affect other areas of your body.
There is some good news — newer forms of birth control contain lower doses of estrogen, so it’s less likely a yeast infection will result. Still, be wary your estrogen-containing pill can cause some discomfort.
13. Crohn’s disease
If Crohn’s already runs in your family, you might want to skip out on the birth control pill altogether. A study published in the journal Gut shows there’s a significant risk between oral contraceptives and Crohn’s. Of course, other factors played into it, like genetics, BMI of the participants, and whether or not they smoked, but it looks like your gut health may be compromised by the hormones in your pill. If you have a history of smoking, there’s also a chance your pill could put you at an increased risk for ulcerative colitis.
14. Painful intercourse
Sex is supposed to bring you and your partner closer together, but for many women on birth control, it does just the opposite. If your painful intercourse started around the same time you began taking the pill, consider the connection. Andrew Goldstein, M.D., tells Health hormonal birth control can cause a lack of lubrication and inflammation of the vaginal walls. Because the pill can lower testosterone levels, you might notice a decrease in your libido, too. Not every birth control pill is the same, so ask your doctor about switching if it’s really affecting your sex life.
Alternatives to the pill
It’s worth noting many women choose to go on the pill and love it. If you’re concerned about the effects, however, you should know you have plenty of options. You’ve probably heard all about the intrauterine device, but it’s really a great option for those wishing to protect against pregnancy without added hormones. Planned Parenthood notes ParaGard, a copper IUD, is hormone-free and 99% effective.
If taking the pill every day is the most annoying part of the process, Everyday Health suggests considering the patch, the ring, or a hormone shot. The shot protects against pregnancy for up to three months at a time. The patch is replaced weekly but can be used continuously without a break, and you don’t have to touch the ring until three weeks have passed. The queen of long-term birth control really is the IUD, though — you can leave the copper one in for up to 12 years.