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What Women Should Know Before Choosing the Pill – Part 1: Weighing the Risks and Benefits

Informed women know that understanding risks and benefits can help them when it comes to deciding what is best for them. This is especially true when it comes to taking the Pill or any hormonal contraception. If you are one of the 61 million women in the US [1] who have used hormonal contraception or you are thinking about starting, the two main things you should understand to make a well informed decision about hormonal contraception are how effective it is and how it affects a woman’s health?

The Contraceptive Pill

Regarding the effectiveness of hormonal contraception, studies have shown that there is a 6-9% chance of pregnancy over a year with all hormonal contraceptives. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, 9 out of 100 women each year who take the Pill faithfully as directed will get pregnant [2]. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13% of women who have abortions were taking hormonal contraception the month they became pregnant [3].

Regarding the affects on a woman’s health, we all know that medications will have unwanted side effects and impact our health. Women should understand the effects which are serious and even life-threatening as well as the more minor effects the make the Pill “worth the risk.”

The minor side effects experienced by women on oral contraceptives are the most common and include [4]:

  • Weight gain
  • Decreased libido
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Headaches
  • Gall bladder disease
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Mood changes
  • Inter-menstrual spotting
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Visual changes with contact lenses

These common, minor side effects are not life threatening, but they may impact your sense of well-being. In Part 2 of this article, we will explore the life threatening, major side effects of hormonal contraception.

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[1] Daniels , K., & Mosher, W. (2013, Feb 14). Contraceptive methods women have ever used:  Unites States 1982-2010. Retrieved from NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24988816

[2] Effectiveness of family planning methods adapted from World Health Organization (WHO) Department of Reproductive Health and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs (CCP). Knowledge for health project. Family planning: a global handbook for providers (2011 update). Baltimore, MD; Geneva, Switzerland: CCP and WHO; 2011; and Trussell J. Contraceptive failure in the United States. Contraception 2011; 83:397–404.

[3] Guttmacher Institute. (2019, September). Induced Abortion in the United States. Retrieved from Guttmacher Institute: https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states

[4] The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. (2018) What Smart Women Know Before Choosing the Pill. Retrieved from The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute: https://www.bcpinstitute.org/brochure---the-pill.html