Birth control or contraceptives are classified into different barrier methods. The most common birth control method includes taking contraceptive pills that prevent sperm from reaching eggs. Other birth control practices include the use of IUDs that allows egg fertilization but prevent implantation of the egg inside the female uterus.
Besides pills and IUDs, diaphragms and condoms are also examples of birth control barrier methods. It is difficult to say which birth control option is the best or the safest option or women, as it is a personal choice of an individual depending on the availability and affordability.
Before choosing the birth control option, a woman needs to carefully consider the benefits, effectiveness as well as the related side effects of each method. The reason being each type of contraceptive method comes with different side effects. This article will cover the side effects of different birth control methods and how to get rid of those side effects.
Difference between Birth Control Methods
One of the primary differences between different types of contraceptives is that some of the methods contain hormones while others do not.
Hormonal birth control methods use the synthetic form of certain hormones that are prescribed by your healthcare professional.
There are two types of hormonal contraceptives named Combination Method (birth control pills, NuvaRing, and Patch) and progestin-only hormonal birth control options (Nexplanon, Mirena IUD, Skyla IUD, Contraceptive injections).
According to various medical observations, the Hormone based birth control methods have higher side effects over non-hormonal birth contraceptives (Condoms, Sponge, Spermicide, Cervical cap, Diaphragm, and low hormonal birth control pills).
How Safe are These Birth Control Methods?
Hormonal contraceptives are not suitable for some women. The women who are at risk of strokes, cancer, headaches, liver disease, heart disease, or high blood pressure may have to avoid the use of hormonal contraceptives. These women can opt for non-hormonal methods for birth control.
Hormonal contraceptives are associated with severe side effects, including chest pain, stroke and heart attack, severe headache, blurry vision, and serious stomach ache, to name a few. Smoking while on hormonal contraceptives including Patch and Nuva ring can also lead to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clot.
The effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives is based on how consistently you use a birth control method. However, no hormonal contraceptive protects you against STDs ( Sexually Transmitted Diseases). You will need condoms to avoid the chance of getting STDs.
Side Effects of Hormonal Contraceptives
No matter what type of contraceptive you use for birth control, each method comes with its own set of side effects which we will discuss below:
Birth Control Pills
The birth control pills were first introduced in 1960. These pills are still considered to be one of the most effective methods to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Over 25% of women use these contraceptive pills for birth control.
When these pills are taken correctly, they are almost 99% effective. However, like any known drug, it also has certain side effects, but most of them go away within 2 to 3 months. Birth control pills are responsible for Nausea which is the most common side effect among the women.
Besides nausea, the pills can change your sexual desires, or lead to headaches and sore breasts. These side effects do not happen to every woman and can go away after some time. There are no major side effects reported for birth control pills.
Birth Control Patch
The Contraceptive Patch is a device that sticks to the skin. It works by releasing estrogen and progestin in your bloodstream, preventing ovulation. The device also helps in thickening of the cervical muscle, which also serves as a barrier for the sperm.
The Patch birth control can give few side effects which are not very serious and can only last for a few menstrual cycles or unless your body can adjust. The potential side effects include acne, spotting between menstrual cycles, nausea, stomach pain, fatigue, etc.
Since this is a hormonal method, it can also lead to a few potential side effects, including high blood pressure, blood clots, liver disease, stroke. You also need to remember that it also lacks STI protection.
The birth control ring or NuvaRing is a tiny, flexible ring that is placed inside your vagina. It helps in preventing pregnancy by transferring hormones in the body. Besides extra wetness in your vagina, the hormones in NuvaRing can also affect your sexual desires.
The most common side effects of NuvaRing include headaches, vaginal irritation, breast tenderness, spotting during periods. Most women do not suffer major side effects from these rings. However, in some severe cases, it can cause fatal problems such as blood clots, stroke, dizziness, and vision issues.
An IUD is a contraceptive device that is placed in the uterus. After inserting the IUD, women can experience some side effects within the first few weeks. Each brand of IUD has different side effects, as explained below. However, the most common side effects of all the IUDs are:
- light, short, or no periods
- irregular menstrual cycles
- PMS symptoms, including nausea, tenderness of breasts, acne, and skin blemishes.
- Uterine perforation, when an IUD damages the wall of the uterus, causing heavy bleeding followed by infection.
The side effects of FDA approved IUD brands Liletta, Kyleena, are as followed:
- Mirena: Mirena releases synthetic progestin to avoid pregnancy. The placement of Mirena can lead to immediate abdominal pain, dizziness, and bleeding. These symptoms are short-lived and go away in 30 minutes. Other side effects are irregular periods, bleeding heavy or very low during the first 3 to 6 months.
- Liletta: The most common side effects of Liletta is ectopic pregnancy while still using the IUD. If you experience abdominal pain and heavy bleeding, you need immediate medical assistance. Other side effects include ovarian cysts, spotting, and irregular bleeding.
- Kyleena: This IUD can lead to vaginal inflammation, headaches, pelvic pain, sore breasts, and painful periods. Women can also suffer from an ovarian cyst, which can go away within 2-3 months of usage; they can still cause discomfort and pain.
- Skyla: The side effects that are specific to Skyla are ovarian cysts and missed periods. This hormone-based IUD can also lead to the risk of ectopic pregnancy in care women get pregnant while using Skyla.
Side Effects of Non-Hormonal Contraceptives
Women can experience vaginal dryness, irritation, and allergies with different barrier control devices when placed inside the vaginal area. These devices are a condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicides, or contraceptive sponge.
Condoms are well-known birth control methods among people. They are inexpensive, convenient, and readily available. There are no significant side effects of using condoms except its moderate failure rate if used improperly. Some other side effects of condoms are skin irritation for both man and woman, diminished sexual sensation, dermatitis due to allergies or latex sensitivity. Some condoms contain lube scents, spermicides and other chemicals that can lead to allergic reactions.
Spermicide is a non-hormonal contraceptive that stops or kills sperm. It is available in different forms, including gel, film, foam, tablet, and suppository. Spermicide can increase the risk of vaginal irritation, urinary tract infection, and some itching or burning.
The cervical cap consists of a rubber barrier that can cover the cervix to keep sperm from getting inside the uterus. It uses spermicide to kill sperms that may end up getting out of the cap. Similar to spermicide, the use of a cervical cap can give vaginal irritation and bladder infections.
The use of contraceptive sponge can lead to common side effects of rectum irritation, vaginal discharge, dryness, and irritation. In rare cases, it can also lead to contact dermatitis, Infection Of Vagina, and UTI.
Paragard IUDs are non-hormonal contraceptive devices that come with a copper coating to prevent sperm. However, copper IUDs also lead to certain side effects such as backache, low blood counts, allergic reaction to copper, and pain during intercourse.
How to Take Care of Common Birth Control Side Effects?
Since the very beginning of using contraceptives, side effects of birth control methods have been a concerning topic for women. Just like any other drug, the side effects of the contraceptive methods involving synthetic hormones come in different flavors.
It is always recommended to consult the doctor to identify the best method in order to avoid potential side effects. However, there are some side effects that are common to most of the birth control methods. Here’s how you can manage the common birth control side effects.
With most of the contraceptives, one common side effect observed by women, in general, is Nausea. There is no special treatment for this concern, but certain lifestyle changes can help you find mild relief.
Caused by: Hormonal combined contraceptive pills and other progesterone-only based IUDs are known to cause nausea, anxiety and similar side effects.
Possible Solution: Minor changes to your lifestyle can resolve the problem in a few days. You can also switch to another brand of the pill or different contraceptive methods if Nausea persists for longer. You can also switch to Progestin-only contraceptive pills because they do not give you Nausea feeling. Simple ways of managing Nausea, stress, and anxiety are as follows:
- Consumption of plain and light foods
- Avoid greasy, fried, and very sweet foods
- Stay hydrated
- Drink ginger tea
- Take a deep and controlled breath
- East frequent and smaller meals
Heavy Menstrual Cycles
Women with a medical history of fibroids, heavy bleeding, and endometriosis are sensitive to uterus irritation leading to heavy menstrual cycles.
Caused by: IUD ParaGard is the worst offender for this side effect as the copper in it can damage the uterine lining and lead to excessive bleeding.
Possible Solution: Women can switch to Mirena IUD, as it helps in reducing the heavy blood flow. The reason being Mirena drastically thins the lining and causes very little to no period.
While most contraceptive methods do not result in weight gain, every individual has a different effect on different medications. Progesterone is known to stimulate appetite, while low Estrogen can make you feel hungry. However, researches are adamant about the fact that birth control does not cause any weight gain.
Caused by: Depo-Provera contraceptive injection shots are more likely to get you obese after three years of using it.
Possible Solution: Non-hormonal IUDs can help as they have no hormones and will prevent weight gain. Mirena is another contraceptive device that has a low progesterone level that will not act on the body but will think out the uterine lining.
Managing IUD Side Effects
The side effects related to IUDs occur within the initial months after the insertion. Here are some simple ways to manage the side effects:
- Applying warm heat on your belly near the pelvic area to relieve the discomfort and cramping.
- Intake of pain-relieving and OTC medication such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen can also help reduce the pain.
- Women should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes on the day of insertion and after the procedure. Using pads or panty liners can absorb spotting and extra bleeding.
In case you experience unusual side effects from IUD, you should report it to the doctor immediately. The serious side effects of IUD should get better within a few weeks or months of insertion as the body gets used to the new hormones and IUD device.
Managing Serious Effects of Hormonal Birth Controls
The adverse effects of hormone-based birth control methods usually go away after a few weeks. Physicians need to make sure that their patients are aware that symptoms are most likely to resolve within 2-3 months.
Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate is the long-acting injectable Hormone that can cause weight gain. Other hormonal contraceptives are not associated with increasing your weight unless you make certain lifestyle changes. Switching different birth control pills do not work for treating nausea, nor does the use of diuretics and multivitamins.
Abnormal bleeding is the most common side effects within the first months of taking combined oral birth control pills. Patients discontinue these contraceptives due to the disorders in the menstrual cycle. The low dose of combined birth control and Progestin-only pills are known to have a higher incidence of bleeding disorders.
The short term solution with Ethinyl estradiol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can help in irregular bleeding and spots. If the bleeding continues for over three months, women will need to be evaluated for other medical causes.
In case progestin-only pills develop or worsen acne, women can switch to combination method. A review found out that NuvaRing users experienced less acne than females taking combined birth control pills.
There is not enough evidence on the effect of hormonal contraceptives on the quality and quantity of breast milk. Women should be assessed for different medical eligibility before as well as during the period of using hormonal contraceptives.
In addition, to help you prevent unscheduled pregnancy, contraceptive methods can have myriad side effects. While some can be annoying, others can prove to be debilitating. Based on your normal medical conditions and picking the right birth control method usually means continuing with that option and experience a few of the pesky occurrences.
Always remember, there are no birth control methods with no side effects, especially every body type reacts differently to specific contraceptive methods. Therefore, the information here is meant to be taken as a general overview.
What is important is that you remember that the main reason to take hormonal contraceptives is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Individually use of hormonal or non-hormonal birth control methods, and their side effects can be the part of the thorough discussion with your health care professional.