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The Side Effects of Birth Control

With so many birth control options to choose from, finding the right one for you can feel like a daunting choice. When choosing your birth control, it is important to consider your lifestyle, medical history, and personal situation. One of the key factors that should guide your choice of birth control is the side effects you may experience - some good and some bad. Keep in mind that all side effects change from person to person, and many people experience no side effects at all.

Finding the right birth control often takes some trial and error, so don't feel discouraged if the first type you try doesn't work for you. At Gemma, you'll always be encouraged to keep trying new alternatives that may work better for you.

Why Birth Control Can Cause Side Effects

Many forms of birth control work by delivering small doses of hormones that alter the way your body so it no longer ovulates, thus reducing the risk of pregnancy. The most commonly found hormones in birth control pills are estrogen and progestin. All hormonal birth control options come with the risk of potential side effects, but it is common for side effects to be strongest when you first start and subside once your body adjusts to your new hormone levels.

While all hormonal birth control alternatives can cause similar side effects, this does not mean that they will all produce the same side effects for you. Different hormone levels and methods of delivering hormones to your body may change the way your body reacts.

Common side effects from hormonal birth control include:

Combination Oral Pills

Combination Oral Contraceptives (COCs) are the most commonly used birth control pills. As per their name, they contain a combination of two hormones, estrogen, and progestin.

In addition to the common side effects of all hormonal birth control, potential side effects of combination pills include:

Progestin Only Pills

Progestin-only pills (POPs), as you might imagine, contain only progestin. The downside of POPs is that they must be taken at the same time every day to be as effective as combination pills. A benefit to progestin-only pills is that it is safe for those who cannot take estrogen supplementation.

In addition to the common side effects of all hormonal birth control, potential side effects of Progestin-only pills include:

Hormonal Patches

The hormonal birth control patch is placed on the skin and is to be changed every week, for three weeks. Every fourth week, no patch is worn for seven days, which is when the period can be expected. The patch contains both estrogen and progestin so the side effects are similar to those of combination oral birth control pills.

In addition to the common side effects of all hormonal birth control, potential side effects of hormonal patches include:

Vaginal Ring

The vaginal ring contains both progestin and estrogen and is inserted into the vagina for three weeks and then removed on the fourth week in which a period can be expected. Side effects to be expected are similar to those of the other combination medications discussed above.

In addition to the common side effects of all hormonal birth control, potential side effects of the vaginal ring include:

Intrauterine Devices (IUD)

An intrauterine device or IUD is a T-shaped device that is inserted into the cervix. The two available types of IUDs include a hormonal IUD and a non-hormonal (or copper) IUD. IUDs are ideal for those who do not respond well to traditional hormonal birth control options or those who want to prevent pregnancy for an extended period of time.

Hormonal IUDs

Hormonal IUDs can be used for 3-10 years depending on the type of device. Because hormonal IUDs release a small dose of hormones there is a risk of hormonal birth control side effects. Most women do not experience any side effects and if they do it is common for them to decrease within the first few months of use. Some slight cramping can be expected after insertion as well as a decrease in your menstrual flow over time.

Non-hormonal (Copper) IUDs

Non-hormonal (Copper) IUDs can be used for up to 12 years. Because there are no hormones in this option, some may experience an increase in menstrual bleeding and cramping, although this can decrease over time. As with hormonal IUDs, some initial cramping can also be expected when the IUD is first inserted.

Injections

Contraceptive injections are given intramuscularly at your doctor's office every three months. It works by inhibiting ovulation, thus reducing the risk of pregnancy.

Common side effects include:

Contraceptive Implants

The contraceptive implant is a new form of hormonal birth control, having been approved by Health Canada in May 2020. A small rod is placed in the upper arm by a healthcare professional. Contraceptive protection begins within 24 hours of placement of the implant, with an effectiveness of 3 years.

Since the implant releases a continuous dose of progestin into your bloodstream, you can expect side effects common to progestin-only birth control, such as the implant. In addition to these, potential side effects of the contraceptive implant include pain, bruising, swelling, or redness at the insertion site that should resolve quickly.

Condoms

Barrier methods such as male or female condoms, if used correctly, are effective in reducing the risk of pregnancy as well as reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. There are no side effects to using condoms. However, if you are allergic to latex you will want to make sure to use a latex-free condom to prevent allergic reactions.

Serious and Rare Side Effects of all Hormonal Birth Control

While most side effects are not dangerous, and serious side effects are rare, they should be discussed. All combination birth controls can increase the risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.  If, after starting hormonal birth control, you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, a racing heart, weakness or numbness in your arms or legs, or pain or swelling in your lower legs, it is super important that you seek emergency care or call 911.