5 Myths About Birth Control

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Mint Presents… is a new series of articles where we partner with pharmacy professionals to discuss new trends, break down common misconceptions and gain perspective on medicine and healthcare.

Ever thought about starting some form of birth control, also known as a contraceptive, but got scared because of what you’ve heard about birth control from others? Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of options available to you?

To be fair, there are a lot of options and ways to prevent pregnancy. For starters, there are barrier methods, combined oral contraceptives (Lolo, Alesse), contraceptive vaginal rings (NuvaRing), transdermal contraceptives (Evra), and intrauterine systems (Mirena), to name just a few, each with their individual pros and cons.

It’s important to understand how birth control pills (also known as combined oral contraceptive pills) work so this article aims to crack down on some of the myths surrounding these contraceptives to help you make a more informed decision. Is it truth or  myth? Let’s find out!

Myth #1: Birth control causes weight gain.

Despite many concerns regarding the association between birth control pills and weight gain, this myth is false.

Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that oral contraceptive pills don’t cause weight gain. Some may argue that they experienced an increase in weight from taking the birth control pill, but this is likely due to other explanations, such as the normal growth of their bodies if they started it when they were young, or for other reasons such as increased appetite and bloating.

Myth #2: Birth control causes cancer.

The answer to this question may surprise you: it’s both yes and no.

For many, it may be surprising to find that birth control pills can decrease the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers. These are cancers in the ovary and lining of the womb, respectively. On the other hand, prescription birth control pills can potentially cause a small increase in the risk of cervical cancer with long-term use (greater than five years). Fortunately, this risk may be reversible upon stopping. Additionally, there have been some concerns regarding the association between birth control pills and breast cancer, but this is still quite controversial and nothing yet is proven.

Myth #3: Birth control causes heart attacks

The risk of heart-related conditions in healthy females taking birth control pills is quite low. In fact, pregnancy puts women at a higher risk than the birth control pill itself.

There is, however, a small increase in the risk of what’s called a Venous Thromboembolism (VTE), which is the formation of a blood clot in the veins of the body.3 VTE’s generally form in deeper veins of the body – typically the leg, where they have the potential to break off and travel to the lungs, blocking the blood supply. The risk of these occurrences are very low, however, if you have a prior history of VTE’s or are simply concerned about them, it’s important to bring this up with your care provider before starting any birth control medication. On the other hand, if you experience any unusual swelling, redness, shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness, or coughing of blood while on these medications, seek care immediately.

Myth #4: The birth control pill causes infertility, and is unsafe during pregnancy.

Based on the current evidence, extended or continuous use of birth control pills has not raised any concerns with respect to infertility.

Additionally, birth control pill exposure just before or during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of major birth defects. However, it is especially important to stop the birth control pill if you happen to be lactating after pregnancy and immediately get in touch with your Mint pharmacist for further advice.

Myth #5: The birth control pill isn’t effective.

When used correctly, birth control pills are theoretically 99.7% effective. With that said, anecdotes from friends and family about their experiences with birth control can be enough to convince many of the non effectiveness of oral contraceptive.

Unfortunately, though, many individuals make mistakes or use their medication improperly.

Therefore, the failure rate can be as high as 9 in 100 women due to inconsistent or incorrect use. It’s essential for women to take their birth control pills regularly, as inconsistent usage and/or missing pills can increase the risk of pregnancy. This is especially true for missing pills in the first or last week of a pack, as most birth control products include a medication-free period of one week for every month and missing doses near the end or beginning of a cycle can extend the length of this period, increasing the risk of failure.

You may have heard that being overweight can make the birth control pill less effective. This may not apply to the birth control pill, however, women who weigh more than 90 kg and use the contraceptive patch rather than the pill may be at risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

Overall, oral contraceptives are considered safe and effective, however proper and consistent use is key to ensuring that they work effectively – as always, consult a healthcare provider when starting any new medications. Second, the use of barrier methods (eg. condoms) is still highly recommended, not only because they act as a reliable backup method, but because they also protect both men and women against sexually transmitted infections, which birth control medications do not protect against.

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