1. There Are Three Varieties Of Birth Control Pill
2. Birth Control Pills Replace Naturally-Occurring Sex Hormones With Chemically-Altered Sex Hormones
"Birth control pills prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation. This is accomplished by the progestin component of the pill. Stopping ovulation prevents a women from maturing an egg each month that could be fertilized and cause pregnancy," Dr. Dunston says. "It also stops a women from producing her own sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It is common to see women on the pill have the same low sex hormone levels as a women in menopause because of this suppression."
In place of naturally-occurring hormones, the pill feeds the body artificial, chemically-altered sex hormones. According to Dr. Dunston, "[These artificial hormones] are similar enough to trick the body into thinking it doesn’t need to produce its own but different enough to not successfully replace what a woman stops producing. Hence, this is partly the cause of the common side effects of low sex drive, fatigue, hair loss, headaches, and others."
3. Missing A Day Of Birth Control Opens A Window For Pregnancy
"If the pills is taken at different times of the day, particularly the lower dose pills, irregular bleeding can result. This is not a sign of lack of efficacy but can be troublesome," Dr. Dunston explains why some women experience spotting throughout the month.
Though spotting is less of a worry than it is a burden, forgetting to take your birth control pills for a day or more can have more serious side effects.
"Missing even a day and certainly missing two days in a row can stop ovulation suppression and allow pregnancy to occur. It also wrecks havoc on a women’s sex hormone balance and can cause exacerbation of symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, weight gain, and others," Dr. Dunston says.
4. Plan B Prevents Pregnancy In Three Ways
An emergency contraceptive is another form of birth control that has become increasingly common, albeit proper education about pills like Plan B One-Step is considerably lacking.
"Plan B floods the body with high doses of estrogen and progestins that can prevent pregnancy in three ways. First, it can prevent ovulation. Second, it can prevent fertilization of an already-released egg. Last, it can cause an already-fertilized egg from adhering to the uterine wall and creating a pregnancy," according to Dr. Dunston.
5. You Can Safely Skip Sugar Pills Every Month
"Up to 15 percent of women on the birth control pill will stop having periods after being on them for a prolonged period of time. ... There is usually panic when this occurs because menstruation is the outward sign that no pregnancy has occurred in a woman not on the pill," Dr. Dunston explains.
Though the absence of menstruation might incite a tiny anxiety attack at the possibility of pregnancy, it's common for women on the pill to stop having periods altogether. In fact, it's fair to assume a woman can enjoy the lack of bleeding every month with peace of mind, as Dr. Dunston clarifies, "If she is on the pill, lack of menses usually does not mean pregnancy has occurred, but most women like to see a period each month, as it is a source of comfort to them."
If you're not part of the 15 percent of women who have stopped having their periods on the pill, you're likely included in the majority who have skipped those monthly placebo pills in favor of convenience and timing. And according to Dr. Dunston, it's completely safe to do so.
"The sugar pills are really just place-holders and can be skipped altogether. These sugar pills have nothing to do with the efficacy of the pill. They can be discarded, and those days that would have a sugar pill, no pill can be taken, or they can be discarded and the active pills be started right away so there is no break in taking active pills.
"This can be done for one month, several months or all the time. It does not affect efficacy in pregnancy prevention. The biggest side effect is irregular bleeding. There is no harm in doing this," Dr. Dunston tells me via email.
6. The Pill Does Not Affect Pregnancy In The Long-Term
Women on the birth control pill are not in danger of infertility, as Dr. Dunston says, "It is a myth that the pill causes infertility. The reason this myth exists is that while a woman is on the pill, her body is still aging and life is having its effects on her body. Many of these effects can prevent pregnancy, including developing female health issues like endometriosis, fibroids, contracting STDs; or global health issues like low thyroid function, one of the most common causes of infertility."
"Taking the pill just prevents a woman from knowing she is developing infertility because the system is not being tested. When she gets off the pill, she is older, her eggs are older, and a condition may have developed that can prevent pregnancy. If she can’t get pregnant, the most obvious change, being on the pill and getting off of it, is often blamed. But it is never the issue. The true issue was just masked," Dr. Dunston assures.
7. The Risk Of Blood Clotting Is Roughly .001 Percent
Though blood clots are among the biggest concerns when it comes to side effects of taking the birth control pill, Dr. Dunston assures, "The risk of getting a blood clot while on the birth control pill is about 1 in 1,000. If a woman has a family history of clots, she should be checked for a clotting disorder that could be exacerbated by the pill prior to being started on the pill, as her risk will be exponentially higher."
8. The Pill Decreases A Woman's Risk Of Developing Ovarian Cysts
For women prone to ovarian cysts, the pill is actually a proven standard for treating the issue, according to Dr. Dunston.
"It’s not necessarily that the pill causes cysts to shrink or resolve, but in a woman with one cyst, her risk of getting others is increased. The pill prevents subsequent cysts from developing and already present cysts from getting larger," says Dr. Dunston.
9. The Pill Helps To Alleviate Period Symptoms By Balancing Sex Hormones
When first opting to go on the pill, many women are looking forward to lessening the burden of painful periods every month, marked by debilitating cramps, migraines, and more.
Dr. Dunston explains how the pill works to alleviate these symptoms, saying, "Heavy, painful periods are generally caused by an excess of estrogen and a lack of progesterone in the body. Estrogen is the heavy, painful period, fibroid, endometriosis, and ovarian cyst hormone. Progesterone is the antidote to all of this. It causes regular, normal-flow, pain-free periods and helps to alleviate symptoms from fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts."
"Despite the fact that the pill is not the same as a woman’s naturally-occurring sex hormones, it packs enough of a hormone punch to decrease this estrogen-progesterone discrepancy and stop the troublesome symptoms," Dr. Dunston says.
10. Long-Term Use Of The Pill Can Have Serious, Undiscussed Risks
As previously mentioned, blood clots are the main concern for women taking the pill; however, there are a number of undiscussed risks many women are unaware of.
11. The More Estrogen, The More Short-Term Side Effects
If you're feeling moody, bloated, or generally off as a result of taking the birth control pill, consult with your gynecologist about other brands, like those with lower estrogen levels.
"The varying estrogen levels in pills affect a women’s body in different ways. Estrogen is the weight gain, water retention, anxiety, depression hormone, while progesterone has the opposite effect. More estrogen means more weight gain, water retention, etc. Hence the trend to decrease or eliminate the amount of estrogen in pills recently," according to Dr. Dunston.
Depending on your lifestyle, birth control is a strong, considerable option for many women, not only for pregnancy prevention but also for general wellness. Before making a decision, it's important to become aware of the facts and side effects, both positive and negative, associated with birth control.
When it comes to taking care of your body, don't cut corners.