Oral contraceptives contain two types of synthetic hormones: Estrogen and Progesterone. The physiological effects and uses of these hormones, as well as the type of oral contraceptive prescribed, are fully dependent on the symptoms being experienced by the individual.
While it is not abnormal for most women to experience some cramping and general discomfort as a direct result of their menstrual cycle, it could also be a sign of Endometriosis. If you are noticing abnormally painful periods, have heavier than normal bleeding during your menstrual cycle, pain during intercourse or are having fertility problems, these signs may be indicative of Endometriosis. Other signs of Endometriosis include bloating, diarrhea and nausea. As a result, birth control is prescribed to help treat the aforementioned symptoms, and in severe cases will be taken on a frequent and continual basis to stop the menstrual cycle all together. Oppositely, in women with significantly short menstrual cycles and very little bleeding (also known as “amenorrhea”), oral contraceptives may be prescribed to help replace estrogen into the body, which will regulate the menstrual cycle. Lack of a menstrual cycle may be caused by weight loss, stress, or excessive exercise, so it is important to speak with your physician so that you can also treat any potential underlying causes that are a factor in leading to menstrual problems.
Along with treating menstrual irregularity, there are other medical benefits to using oral contraceptives. The hormones in birth control pills have been show to significantly reduce breakouts in individuals prone to acne. While the results typically aren’t immediate, these skin changes do become noticeable over time. Oral contraceptives have also been said to lower the risk of ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, and even menstrual migraines.
However, as with any medication, the use of oral contraceptives does not come without side effects. Spotting and irregular periods may occur during the first 3 weeks of starting birth control. In addition, you may also notice nausea, and in that case you will want to take your medication with food or an anti-nausea medication such as Gravol. Birth control has also been shown to cause significant weight gain in some individuals, so it is important to exercise regularly and watch your portion intake. Low-carb diets are something Dr. Ali Ghahary strongly advocates, and may even be beneficial while on birth control to avoid potential weight gain.
Every individual will react differently to birth control medications, so it is important to write down a list of any concerns you may have to discuss with your family doctor upon your next visit.