Contraceptives: what about your health?

Contraceptives: what about your health?

Your method of birth control can actually do more than just protect against pregnancy. It may also affect things such as your appearance and your risk of certain kinds of cancer.

Health benefits

Some methods of birth control have benefits for your health.

Clearer skin: Studies have shown a connection between the use of the birth control pill and decreased amounts of acne. This is because the pill can moderate levels of hormones called androgens, regulating the production of oil in the skin.

Protection from certain diseases: The birth control pill is associated with protection from some diseases affecting women. These include benign ovarian cysts, endometrial (uterine) cancer, ovarian cancer, iron deficiency (anemia), and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Reduced pain and menstrual flow: Birth control methods that contain hormones are linked to a reduction in the volume of menstrual flow and the painful cramps that often accompany your period.

Protection against STIs: Condoms provide protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Depending on the nature of your sexual relationship, this protection can be vital, even if you use another form of birth control, because the other forms of birth control do not provide protection from diseases such as AIDS/HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (associated with genital warts and cancer of the cervix), and syphilis.

Things to watch out for

Your state of health is an important consideration when deciding on or during the use of any birth control method. Certain birth control methods may affect some medical conditions, and medication for some conditions may change the effectiveness of some birth control methods.

Antibiotics: The antibiotic rifampin reduces the effectiveness of birth control pills. As for other antibiotics, there is less conclusive evidence that they decrease the effect of oral contraceptives. This effect may only occur in a small number of women. But it's best to err on the side of caution, as more research is needed to determine the effect of antibiotics on the modern low-dose birth control pills used today. Adding a barrier method (e.g., male or female condom) is a good idea if you're taking antibiotics.

Latex allergy: Most male condoms are made of latex. People who are allergic to latex can consider such options as female condoms and condoms made from polyurethane. Lambskin condoms are also available, but they offer less protection against STIs. If protection from STIs is not an important issue, there are many contraception options, ranging from sponges to IUDs to pills.

Women who have any of the following should talk to their doctor before deciding on a birth control method:

  • breast cancer
  • diabetes and associated damage to small blood vessels
  • family history of stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • history of blood clots in a vein (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (pulmonary embolism)
  • liver disease
  • migraine headaches
  • smoking and over the age of 35

While taking the pill, watch out for early danger signs described by the acronym ACHES:

  • Abdominal pain (severe)
  • Chest pain (severe)
  • Headaches (severe)
  • Eye problems
  • Severe leg pain

If you experience any of the above symptoms, inform your doctor immediately.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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