By: Seth L. Stern, MD
Birth control medication is one of the most commonly used forms of reversible contraception. When used properly it has been found to be extremely reliable. Comprised of either estrogen and progesterone or progesterone alone, these medications come in various forms such as pills, injections, patches, vaginal rings, skin implants, and intrauterine devices. Some of the mechanisms by which they work include blocking the release of an egg from the ovaries, altering the cervical mucus as well as tubal fluids which affect the transport of sperm and ova, and also changing the endometrial lining of the uterus.
Hormonal contraception is commonly used for birth control, to regulate one’s menstrual cycle, to reduce menstrual flow, to reduce pelvic pain associated with endometriosis and/or menses, to alleviate PMS, to provide childbearing age women with hormones when they are not menstruating, to help reduce the occurrence of menstrual related migraine headaches, to prevent ovarian cysts, and to help treat both acne and excess body hair. Additional benefits have included reducing the risk of: ovarian and endometrial cancer, benign breast disease, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and possibly colorectal cancer. There also may be improvement of anemia, bone mineral density as well as symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
However, hormonal contraception may not be the optimal choice for all women. Hormonal contraception is not commonly recommended for women who are pregnant or have abnormal uterine bleeding, advanced complicated diabetes, severe uncontrolled hypertension, active liver disease, clotting disorders, uncontrolled migraines with focal neurologic symptoms, breast cancer or any estrogen dependent cancer. It is also not recommended for women age 35 or older who smoke, or women who have a history of DVT, pulmonary emboli, stroke, coronary artery or ischemic heart disease. Hormonal contraception is also not recommended in patients who have prolonged immobilization.
Some of the side effects associated with hormonal contraception include irregular bleeding or staining, no period at all, breast tenderness, nausea, increases in headaches, moodiness and weight change. Not every woman experiences side effects.
One of the limitations of hormonal contraception is that it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. It is for this reason that condoms should be used in conjunction with hormonal contraception.
It is very important that prior to the start of birth control medication, that
you are seen by a physician or healthcare professional and examined. Then you can mutually decide on an effective form of contraception that is right for you.