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Finding the balance: the pros and cons of hormonal contraception

reading time: 5 minutes reading time
the pros and cons of hormonal contraception

Choosing whether to use hormonal contraception is a big decision. Especially when you’re the kind of person who struggles with even the little things, like whether you want curry or stir-fry for dinner tonight.

Stir-fry… or maybe… curry?

In any decision, it’s important to know the facts before you get started. So here goes, we’ve channelled our inner Ross Geller and made a list of pros and cons (wow that episode was a long time ago, wasn’t it!?).

Pros
Let’s face it, staying bump-free is the reason most of us choose it in the first place, but there are some extra benefits we can get from using hormonal contraception.

May improve acne – Acne can be caused by substances in your body called androgens. Combined hormonal contraceptives can reduce the levels of these androgens and help to relieve the symptoms of acne.1

Helps period cramps and premenstrual syndrome – Mood swings. Nausea. Bloating. Fatigue. Pain. We’ve all been there. Well, hormonal contraceptives can also help to reduce the symptoms of period pain and PMS.2,3 Some women also find that it makes their periods lighter and less painful.

Easier planning – Periods are meant to come in a standard 28-day cycle, but it’s never that simple, is it? They come early when you’re not expecting them, or late, just to give you a few nervous days. Thanks. But hormonal contraception can help. The contraceptive pill usually comes with three weeks of active tablets, followed by one week of inactive ones. When taking the inactive ones, you get what’s called withdrawal bleeding, which is similar to having a normal period. But it tends to show up more regularly. With some forms of hormonal contraception, it is also possible to skip a period by leaving the inactive pills and going straight to the next pack of active ones. This is great if you have an important event coming up and you don’t want your period to get in the way.4

Another option is a long-cycle birth control pill, which have been designed to give extended doses of the active pills. This means you have fewer periods each year, without needing to worry about skipping the inactive ones.

Less chance of certain cancers – It has recently been found that taking the combined pill can significantly reduce the risk of ovarian, bowel and endometrial cancer.5

It’s important to note that these benefits won’t necessarily happen for everyone. And, as with all treatments, there are also some associated side effects.

Cons
The honeymoon period – If you can call it that. Several women find that they experience some temporary side effects in their first few months of using hormonal contraception. These can include nausea, headaches, mood swings and breast tenderness. Breakthrough bleeding or spotting can also occur in these months.4 You should speak to your doctor if the symptoms do not die down.

Blood pressure – A few hormonal contraceptives can cause slight increases in blood pressure in some women.6 Your doctor should keep an eye on this whenever you have a check-up.

Increased risk of thrombosis – Some hormonal contraceptives contain oestrogen, which can cause the blood to clot more easily and slightly increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.4

Increased chance of certain cancers – Wait, I thought we said it reduced the risk of certain cancers? It does. But it can also increase the risk of others, such as cervical and breast cancer.7 It’s never simple, is it?

There are definitely upsides and downsides to taking hormonal contraception. Hopefully, this has made things clearer for you, but make sure you speak to your doctor to find out more about the different contraceptive options available to you. Now, time for dinner. How about pizza?

 

References

  1. https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/hormonal-factors-key-to-understanding-acne-in-women
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16597692
  3. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Premenstrual-syndrome/Pages/Treatment.aspx
  4. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/combined-contraceptive-pill.aspx
  5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/03/22/contraceptive-pill-protects-women-against-cancer-35-years-major/
  6. http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/microsites/u40/Home/daily/Contraceptives
  7. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/hormones-and-cancer/the-contraceptive-pill