The Pros and Cons of Long-Term Birth Control Pill Usage

If you’re sexually active, one of your top priorities when you slip between the sheets is likely avoiding pregnancy. The pitter-patter of little feet might sound great one day — but not necessarily today. Consequently, birth control is your best friend.

Without question, hormonal forms of birth control are the most effective. When used correctly, they prevent pregnancy more than 99% of the time. It probably doesn’t surprise you that birth control pills are used most often. They’re affordable and come in lots of versions, so you can find the one that’s best for you.

Depending on your age, you could stay on the pill for years — maybe decades. Here’s the question, though. Is that a good idea? As it turns out, taking the pill long-term offers some great benefits. But it comes with some downsides, too. Let’s look at the pros and cons of popping (birth control) pills over time.

The Pros

1. Controlling Your Acne

No one likes seeing blemishes in the mirror. Depending on your hormones, your acne could be severe. When prescription medications (like antibiotics), creams, and face washes don’t work, it may be time to go another route. Consider talking with a healthcare provider about the birth control pill.

It reduces your pimples by regulating your hormones. Estrogen and progesterone levels that are out of whack can cause breakouts. The pill evens everything out. With fewer hormonal highs and lows, you’ll have fewer zits in your reflection.

2. Regulating Your Period

Not much is more embarrassing than a period that arrives when you least expect it. The pill can help you avoid those mad dashes to the bathroom. When taken as directed, it puts your cycle on a predictable schedule. Planning your calendar is as simple as counting the days from period to period.

Both older and newer pills make it easy to schedule big events or vacations. Most versions include three weeks of hormonal pills, leaving that fourth week for your period. Some newer pills, however, provide three months of active pills. That’s right — that means you only get four periods a year!

3. Reducing Anemia

Some women get bloated during their periods. Others get cramps. Everyone loses some amount of blood. With a heavier cycle, you could develop anemia. It’s a condition where your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells. As a result, you’re left tired and weak.

This is where newer birth control pills come in handy. If you’re getting fewer periods a year, you’re losing less blood. Even with older pills, your flow could be lighter. Less blood loss equals less period-related anemia risk.

4. Nixing Your Migraines

When you think of your period, cramps, bloating, and mood swings might pop to mind. You may also experience period-related migraines. Or maybe you’re among the millions of sufferers who can get migraines at any time. If so, birth control pills can make that head-pounding pain go away.

Migraines happen because your estrogen and progesterone levels drop just before your period. The hormones from the pills keep those levels from falling too low, so you sidestep the discomfort. Just a quick note, though — if you’re at higher risk for stroke, talk with your doctor before taking the pill.

The Cons

1. Upping Your Cardiovascular Risks

Taking birth control pills can increase your risk of experiencing a stroke. This is an even bigger problem if your family history already puts you in a high-risk category. If so, talk with your doctor about another birth control option.

The pill can also boost your risk of developing blood clots or having a heart attack. It’s all linked to the bump in estrogen you get from the medication. So before you start, have an in-depth discussion with your physician.

2. Reducing Your Sex Drive

This side effect can be particularly frustrating. Pregnancy prevention is a huge birth control pill benefit. Less worry means you can enjoy bedroom playtime more. Long-term use, though, can send your sex drive into a nosedive. So much for more fun between the sheets!

Lowered libido doesn’t happen to everyone. And there’s no clear evidence that it’s linked to any hormonal changes from the medication. Still, the pill has other side effects that could put sex on the back burner. If you’re tired or anxious, have breast tenderness, or have gained a few pounds, nookie may be the last thing on your mind.

3. Raising Your Risk of Some Cancers

Everyone has at least some lifetime level of risk for developing a form of cancer. Taking birth control pills, unfortunately, increases your risk for certain types. On the pill, your breast cancer risk roughly doubles. You also face greater chances of cervical cancer. The good news is that once you stop the medication, your risk drops to normal within five years.

Let’s balance this downside, though. You ovulate less on the pill. With fewer hormones running around, your ovarian cancer risk drops 50%. If you take the pill for at least four years, the same reduction happens with your uterine cancer risk. Those benefits can linger for decades.

4. Increasing Your Risk of Gallbladder Disease

You probably hardly ever think about your gallbladder — especially not when it comes to birth control. You should. If you rely on the pill long-term, your risk of developing gallbladder disease jumps by one-third. It can even raise the likelihood that you’ll develop gallstones.

If your skin gets a yellowish tint, your urine gets darker, and your stools turn lighter, pay attention. Gallbladder disease comes with abdominal pain, bloating, and overall discomfort after eating. Surgery is the treatment, so talk with your doctor if this sounds familiar.

Taking birth control pills for pregnancy protection is a convenient way to postpone — or prevent — parenthood. Just be aware that it comes with several pros and cons. Before you decide it’s the birth control option for you, discuss the good and bad with your healthcare provider. Years down the line, you’ll be happy that you did.

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