Long-promoted as a testament to feminism and a woman’s right to reproductive choice, birth control isn’t without its pitfalls. The synthetic hormones that these pills, patches, implants, and shots contain can be downright harmful to the women who use them.
Are they warned about the side effects?
Only those that the Food and Drug Administration says doctors need to caution them about. So, what about the rest? What about the side effects reported in clinical trials that no one talks about? How about the studies since the approval of birth control that keep pointing to it diminishing fertility in women and causing catastrophic health events?
As birth control continues to fly under the radar, women everywhere are getting sick. Some are dying, and it’s all because they thought they were making a solid and safe choice to prevent pregnancy.
Women are taught from a young age that it is their primary responsibility to make sure they aren't expectant before they’re ready to be a mother. While unprotected sex might be just as much the male partner’s fault, they can opt out of a pregnancy far easier than women can. Likewise, the males in this equation don’t have to put their health on the line to protect themselves from fatherhood.
In fact, birth control for men has been in development for ages, and yet we still haven’t seen it gain FDA approval and hit the shelves of pharmacies. Many men claim they would readily accept the drug if they had the option, but it brings to light the question of just how many risks would be laid out to the male gender before they went ahead with it.
15 Risk Of Infertility
Multiple studies have confirmed what many doctors and women have suspected. Prolonged exposure to synthetic estrogen and progesterone does indeed affect the body in some negative ways, and infertility is one of them.
Hormonal contraceptives thin the uterine lining. In women who use these forms of birth control, they may have trouble after coming off of it with thickening that lining again. This often leads to a need for fertility interventions and, yep, more synthetic hormones.
Many women also experience irregularity with their cycles after using birth control that they did not experience prior to such. This can make it difficult to pinpoint ovulation and know when to try to conceive. The use of birth control can also cause hormonal imbalance in the period following cessation that may impair ovulation and even prevent the body from producing the cervical mucus it needs to transport the sperm to the egg.
An American Journal of Epidemiology study noted that fertility does take longer to return in women who stop using oral contraceptives than it does for women who use other methods of birth control, like condoms. It's likely that some women respond worse than others to birth control when it comes to fertility, and the thing is, no one can tell ahead of time if they’re part of that demographic.
14 Cysts In The Reproductive Organs
There are many kinds of cysts. The type that birth control causes are normally harmless on their own. They are generally filled with blood or other bodily fluids and will rupture in time or recede without treatment.
So, why then are they so problematic?
They can impair fertility by delaying or skipping ovulation altogether. They can also be quite painful, especially if they are located on the ovary during ovulation. In addition, cysts on the ovaries can grow quite large. Many cysts need to be surgically removed because of this. When they grow, the risk of ovarian torsion increases. This means the ligaments that suspend the ovary can twist and this cuts off the blood supply to the organ.
Cysts are quite common in women who discontinue birth control. This doesn’t mean they should stay on it, but that they likely would not have developed them had they not been on — and then off — the contraceptive to begin with. Some women will continue to incur cysts month after month while others only see one or two and they resolve. It’s a risk some women aren’t willing to take.
13 Increase Chance Of Getting PCOS
Speaking of cysts, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome affects between 5 and 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Yes, many cases of PCOS are treated with hormonal birth control, but those cases don’t negate the number of women who are suffering from pill-induced PCOS.
Science is still trying to explain it. It's possible that some of these cases aren’t caused by the pill itself, but appear only because the underlying PCOS was suppressed when the woman was on the pill. Still, some cases seem to be caused by birth control just as standalone cysts can be.
The resurgence of gender hormones, like progesterone and estrogen, after coming off of birth control often causes cysts. For some women they'll be hormonally imbalanced following the cessation of birth control. This is often known as estrogen dominance. This heightened level of estrogen causes cysts to form in multiples on the ovaries.
Since progesterone remains too low, the follicle fails to release the egg as it matures and a cyst forms instead. Women with PCOS may often see worsening symptoms while on birth control, too. The mechanism behind this is that birth control intensifies insulin resistance, which is already a problem for these women.
12 Blood Clots
The synthetic estrogen in birth control is responsible for the elevated risk of blood clots, because it increases the clotting factors in the body. It's those factors that cause clots to form and travel, which can be potentially fatal. While the most significant risk applies to smokers and women over 35, more and more women who do not meet these factors are suffering from birth control-related blood clots.
Two in every 100,000 women who don’t take hormonal contraceptives suffer from blood clots. In comparison, 6 in every 100,000 who do use birth control will. More harm stems from newer pills on the market. Yasmin, Yaz, and other pills similar to it — notable for containing drospirenone — put forth the most risk. Among women who use them, 10 in every 100,000 will suffer from a blood clot.
You are encouraged to participate in a study by Hormones Matter. Initial results from the first phase showed younger, more active women were more likely to develop blood clots and more likely to die from them. Blood clots are also more likely in newer users and during the first year or so of use.
The study — titled Real Risk Study: Birth Control and Blood Clots — is being carried out as a joint effort by Lucine Health Sciences via Hormones Matter.
11 At Risk Of A Stroke
It seems that healthcare takes a back seat for women quite often. Strokes obviously affect both genders, but the pharmaceutical industry and society alike seem to be far more keen to pushing drugs onto women that could increase such a risk than on men. Not that anyone is advocating for harming women, it just appears there isn’t as much caution in place.
Women are warned that they shouldn’t use hormonal birth control if they are smokers or if they’re over the age of 35 — as though the risk of stroke only applies to those demographics. But, it doesn’t. The American Stroke Association reports women who use low-dose estrogen birth control methods may be as much as two times as likely to have a stroke as women who don’t use such medication.
Over 100,000 women under the age of 65 have a stroke in America each year. While there are certainly multiple causes, birth control is one that is frequently overlooked. The Loyola University Health System notes 4.4 ischemic strokes will occur for every 100,000 women of childbearing age.
When it comes to those who take birth control, one ischemic stroke will occur for every 24,000 women who use the medication. It might sound like a small risk, until you’re that woman.
10 Gallbladder Disease
This issue often flies under the radar. Even many doctors are unaware of the connection between hormonal contraceptives and gallbladder disease. As these conditions seem to be increasing in women — especially younger women — research has taken to determining if there is a link and how serious it may be.
It seems that certain formulations of birth control are linked to gallbladder issues while others are not. Those that affect women are contraceptives that include the ingredients norethindrone and drospirenone.
Cholesterol concentrations in the bile are increased by the use of these hormonal contraceptives. Medically, this often leads to gallstones. The risk of developing gallbladder disease increases the longer a woman uses hormonal birth control.
The most publicized cases of this issue and studies surrounding it appear to be on more modern birth controls, such as Yaz and pills like it, which both contain the antiandrogen drospirenone. Interestingly, these specific drugs are often recommended to treat many of the issues discussed here that hormonal birth control can cause, such as PCOS and PMDD.
9 Increased Chance Of Heart Attack
This may be the biggest risk that birth control poses to the female population who uses it. The risk goes back to estrogen. Ultra-low-dose estrogen combination pills increase the risk of heart attack by 50 percent. Traditional low-dose pills up that risk by as much as 80 percent.
One study notes that for every ten years that the women analyzed were ]taking birth control, the amount of plaque in their arteries increased by 20 to 30 percent. Still, the risks of heart attack stem far beyond the initial event. In that first year following a heart attack, women are 50 percent more likely to die than men are.
Some studies of older variants of the contraceptive pill note an increased risk of heart attack as high as 200 percent. For women who smoke alongside taking birth control, their risk of heart disease jumps by 20 percent.
8 Sever Migraines
While it might sound like just a headache to the individual that’s never had one, migraines are nothing to mess around with. These debilitating headaches can persist for days on end. They require time off from work and even complicate many women’s lives enough that they no longer can work at all.
Women who suffer from migraines are actually not supposed to use hormonal contraceptives. They are more likely to suffer from many of the side effects explained here, like stroke. Nonetheless, a lot of women who use birth control suffer from migraines because of the drug.
Synthetic hormones are not processed in the body the same way that its own natural hormones are. An extra dose of estrogen or progesterone can cause an imbalance that triggers many symptoms — migraine being one of them. Aura is also a common side effect of birth control — often thought to be caused by pressure on the eyes from excess fluid that the body retains, which progesterone contributes to.
7 Chance Of Developing A Mood Disorder
I researched the catalyst behind the development of PMDD, being a sufferer myself. I took to Facebook and starting polling women, among those women whose PMDD developed later in life than the onset of menses, what was the cause? Some cited pregnancy, others tubal ligation, but in each and every group another thing kept surfacing, hormonal birth control.
Here’s the thing with hormones. Your brain needs them. Your body makes what hormones it needs to reproduce and function in a healthy way. When we start disrupting that perfect homeostasis is when things tend to go awry. Many women start taking birth control at a young age before their endocrine systems can even fully develop.
Suddenly, in their late teens and early twenties, women everywhere are suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders that lead many to even claim their lives. One such case was Gia Allemand — a long time sufferer of PMDD and known for her appearance on season 14 of ABC’s The Bachelor. Gia took her life in 2013.
6 Reduced Bone Density
There isn’t much hiding the truth about bone density and birth control. The two are not friends. Studies show that bone density reduction can start as early as just two years after beginning to use a hormonal contraceptive. While we are used to hearing talk about bone density loss in older women, studies show this occurs alongside birth control use even in females as young as 14 years old!
Follow-up studies on women who discontinued the use of hormonal contraceptives still showed they were deficient in bone density one to two years after stopping, compared to their peers who had not used birth control.
In a study of women under 30, those taking the birth control pill for at least a year were found to have 5.9 percent less bone mineral density than women who were not taking oral contraceptives. Continued use of hormonal contraceptives over the course of a woman’s reproductive life could set her up for serious bone loss and osteoporosis, as well as fractures and bone breakage later in life.
5 Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer
Another long-held belief and one that is purely myth is that birth control doesn’t increase the risk of cancer. Too bad numerous studies attest that birth control does just that. The Susan G. Komen Foundation notes the risk of breast cancer is raised by an alarming 20 to 30 percent during and after a woman uses hormonal birth control.
For women who use birth control, it takes roughly ten years for the risk to diminish enough that it is once again equal to that of women who have never used birth control.
The American Association for Cancer Research states the risk of breast cancer is increased by roughly 50 percent in women who have used hormonal birth control in the previous year. Formulations of birth control containing higher levels of estrogen raised the risk for cancer by threefold. Birth control with even small amounts of estrogen did so by 60 percent.
4 Candida Overgrowth
Candida is always present in our bodies. When overgrowth occurs, it covers the intestines and leads to an imbalance of gut flora. Adding birth control to candida is like adding fuel to a fire, because estrogen causes candida to spread more. Candida overgrowth generally occurs when estrogen dominance has taken hold — even if only for short periods during a woman’s cycle.
This can happen easily while a woman is taking hormonal birth control. Likewise, candida also encourages the continued persistence of estrogen dominance. It’s a vicious cycle. Around 11.7 million women are using hormonal contraceptives in the United States. That’s a lot of women who aren’t being screened for candida — which isn’t routinely tested for.
So, what’s so horrible about candida overgrowth? It isn’t all about yeast infections, ladies. Candida overgrowth causes an onslaught of mental health and emotional issues that are so devastating and powerful, they are known to parallel symptoms of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
In fact, many women are diagnosed with such disorders only to find later on that they actually had candida overgrowth of the gut all along. They heal the gut and treat for candida, and their symptoms go away.
3 Tumors Of The Liver
If you’ve never heard of a hepatocellular adenoma of the liver, now is the time to brush up on it. These usually benign tumors occur in the hepatic system. Yes, benign. Even when it isn’t cancerous, it's still a cause for concern. It can cause some intense pain in the upper quadrant of the midsection and often these adenomas must be surgically removed if they reach more than 5 cm in size.
They are masses that are actually composed of liver cells.
Adenomas are caused by fluctuations in hormones, and birth control is one catalyst for such. Sometimes, these tumors start to cause internal bleeding or will rupture, which must be promptly addressed. In some cases, adenomas will progress into liver cancer. The Journal of the International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association notes around 10 percent of adenomas become cancerous.
To date, it is still unknown whether the risk of cancer where adenomas are concerned is increased by the use of hormonal birth control. Research on hepatocellular carcinoma has shown there may be evidence that birth control use increases the risk of developing it.
2 Cervical Cancer
If breast cancer wasn’t enough to give you pause before jumping into the world of hormonal contraceptives, cervical cancer just might be. The risk of cervical cancer increases the longer a woman uses hormonal birth control. Those who use the drug for five years or more are at particular risk.
Much like other forms of cancer and birth control, the risk starts to decline when use is discontinued. Still, it can take time to return to a baseline level. However, there is notable evidence that the human papillomavirus (HPV) also contributes to the development of cervical cancer.
In some cases, the use of birth control may deter women from using barrier methods of protection during sex that could aid in preventing them from being infected with HPV. Thus, the link between birth control and cervical cancer could actually be accounted for in part by HPV infections that occur alongside it.
Nonetheless, in a study of women infected with HPV who were using hormonal birth control, their risk of cervical cancer when using the contraceptive for 5 to 9 years was nearly tripled when compared to women who had never used hormonal birth control. The risk was four times higher in women who used birth control for at least a decade.
1 Can Even Result In Death
Yes, birth control can kill you. Think we’re kidding? Think again. While the cause of death is often not directly listed as being from birth control, it is often linked to it. For instance, Sophie Murray was just 16-years old when she suffered from a blood clot in her lungs due to deep vein thrombosis caused by taking birth control pills.
From heart attacks to paralysis, birth control isn’t without risks. The deaths of at least 83 women have been linked to Nuvaring. Their cases have been compensated more than $100 million by Merck, the makers of the drug. While the pharmaceutical manufacturer is buried under more than 11,000 lawsuits, not even 100 have been settled.
Studies have shown death rates from circulatory diseases are more than five times higher in women who use birth control than in those who don’t. For women who use birth control for at least five years, the death rate is 10 times higher than peers who did not use the drug.
One of the biggest mistakes women make isn’t using birth control, but using it and assuming that none of these things will happen to them. Educating yourself on the benefits and the risks or hormonal birth control is the only way to make an informed decision about its use. These are just some of the risks that apply to using synthetic hormones, and no one is exempt.