Birth control is a widely used method to prevent pregnancy, and in certain cases, to manage various medical conditions. Consequently, many women may rely on some form of birth control throughout their adult lives. While birth control is generally considered safe, some researchers and medical professionals have investigated the possible consequences of long-term use.
The Different Types of Birth Control
It’s crucial to understand the different types of birth control available: hormonal and non-hormonal methods. The non-hormonal options include barrier methods and copper IUDs (intrauterine devices) that do not contain hormones, while hormonal options contain progestin and/or estrogen.
Hormonal birth control methods consist of either estrogen and progestin or solely progestin. Progestin is a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone. There are two main types of birth control methods: “combination” methods, which contain both estrogen and progestin, and “progestin-only” methods, which solely contain progestin. Combination methods include contraceptive patches, oral contraceptives (birth control pills), and vaginal rings. Progestin-only methods include birth control pills like norethindrone and drospirenone, the Depo-Provera injection (containing medroxyprogesterone), the Nexplanon arm implant (containing etonogestrel), and intrauterine devices (IUDs) like levonorgestrel (e.g., Mirena).
Long-Term Birth Control: Are There Any Side Effects?
Severe reactions and side effects from contraceptives are possible but uncommon. Additionally, it is worth noting that most of the scientific data regarding the long-term side effects of contraceptives pertains primarily to birth control pills. Here are some of the possible side effects of taking contraceptives:
Combination birth control pills can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This happens when blood clots form in the arms or legs, and in severe cases, they can travel to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism. A review of 26 studies found that all types of combination pills increased the risk of blood clots. Some progestins, like desogestrel and drospirenone, had a higher risk compared to levonorgestrel. However, it’s important to know that the overall risk of blood clots with hormonal birth control pills is still low. In fact, pregnancy carries a higher risk of blood clots than using birth control pills.
If you have a history of blood clots, consider discussing alternative options, like an IUD containing levonorgestrel, with your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated Physician.
Stroke and Heart Attack
Heart attacks and strokes can happen if blood clots block the heart’s blood supply or travel to the brain. A review of 24 studies showed that birth control pills increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, especially in pills containing 50 mcg or more of estrogen.
While heart attacks in women under the age of 50 are uncommon, it’s important to consider your health history. If you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or have had a stroke, you may want to discuss options like the levonorgestrel IUD due to the higher risk of complications with other forms of birth control. Also, be sure to inform your healthcare provider if you are a smoker. Women 35 years or older who smoke are generally advised against hormonal birth control pills due to the increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
Oral birth control has been linked to a higher risk of developing cancer, including cervical and breast cancers. Still, it’s worth mentioning that the same pills have been reported to lower the risks of developing colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), there is an increased likelihood of developing cervical cancer in individuals who have been using birth control pills for a minimum of 5 years. The study also revealed that the risk of cervical cancer tends to rise with prolonged usage of birth control pills. However, it is essential to note that once birth control usage is discontinued, cervical cancer risk will likely return to normal levels. It is worth mentioning that the study specifically focused on individuals infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), as this virus is a significant contributor to the development of cervical cancer.
Nearly all birth control pills will raise the risk of breast malignancies. In a large study of a total of 150,000 women, the risk of developing breast cancer was higher while on combination pills. Also, the risks remained higher in the following ten years, even after seizing pill use. Another study, with a total of 1.8 million participants, found that all hormonal birth control options have an elevated risk of developing breast cancer, including all pills, vaginal rings, patches, and levonorgestrel intrauterine devices. However, the associated risks are low. For example, out of 100,000 women between the ages of 25 and 29, only 61 will develop breast cancer.
Birth Control and Fertility
Current research suggests that using these methods generally doesn’t impact fertility, but it might take some time to conceive after discontinuing usage. For most women, pregnancy typically occurs within a year after stopping birth control, although the specific compound used can influence the timing. For example, using Depo-Provera may prolong the time it takes for women to become pregnant.
When considering birth control, it’s essential to make it a personal decision. While most birth control options are generally safe, certain types may not be suitable for everyone. Schedule an appointment with a TopLine MD Alliance affiliated Physician to explore your birth control options and address any concerns.