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Non-Contraceptive Benefits Of "The Pill"

These benefits and new indications counter many of the myths about birth control pills that must be debunked.  These unfounded myths include:

  • "Taking the pill makes you fat".  Not true. 
  • "If I take the pill my face will break out."  Not true.  Studies have even found that the pill can decrease the severity of preexisting acne.  In 1996 the FDA even approved one type of pill as an effective treatment for moderate acne.  
  • "It may increase breast cancer risk".Not true.  An analysis of 54 studies in 25 countries found no increased risk of breast cancer 10 or more years after women stopped taking the pill compared with women who never took it.  This is true for women even with a family history of breast cancer.  The analysis did find that women who had never used the pill had a slightly lower incidence of breast cancer than women who were current or past users.  Researchers believe that the pill may enhance the growth of an existing tumor instead of starting a new one.  Smokers are at greater risk, however.
  • "You need a pill vacation after being on it for several years".  Not true.
  • "The pill isn't safe for women over age 35".  Not true.  However, women who smoke over age 35 should stop smoking if they wish to continue on oral contraceptives.
  • "If you've tried one pill, you've tried them all".  Not true.  While most pills are similar, there are many choices with many different formulations, and hormonal compositions.  Depending on your side effects, your doctor can change your prescription once or many times until the right pill is identified for you.
  • "Once I stop taking the pill, I'll have difficulty getting pregnant".  Not true.  A woman who stops taking the pill will have no more trouble conceiving than a woman who did not take them.
  • "If I'm on the pill I don't need to use condoms."  Not true.  The pill provides excellent contraception, but the pill does not protect a woman from sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV/AIDS.
  • "You can't take it if you're nursing".  Not true.  Progestin-only contraceptives are a safe and effective method of contraception for breast-feeding women as early as 3 weeks postpartum.
  • "You can't take the pill if you smoke".  Not true.  It is true that smoking increases most of the risks of taking the pill by 3-4 times. . .including heart attacks.  But women who smoke and take the pill should simply stop smoking!  Smoking while pregnant is much worse (for mom and baby) than smoking while on the pill.
  • "You can't take the pill if you have migraines, diabetes, high blood pressure, or PMS".  Not true.  There are several conditions (listed below) with which you may not take the pill under any circumstances (contraindications).  These conditions, however, may or may not be affected by the pill.  In fact, in some women, migraines and PMS may be improved.  High blood pressure  and diabetes must be treated whether or not a woman is on the pill; taking oral contraception may require adjustments in medical therapy, however, and these conditions must be closely monitored in all women who have them whether or not they are on the pill.  As with all medical situations, your individual situation must be guided by medical advice from your own physician.

A new low dose oral contraceptive called Yasmin (Berlex Laboratories) has received marketing approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This pill contains 30 mcg of ethinyl estradiol along with a unique progestin that also helps reduce water retention. Yasmin contains 3 mg of drospirenone, a novel progestin that, as an analogue of spironolactone, affects the regulation of water levels and electrolyte balance in the body.

According to Dr. Candace Brown, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Tennessee, the new drug may be ideal for patients who want an oral contraceptive and who also experience premenstrual symptoms such as bloating and irritability. Yasmin is contraindicated in patients with kidney, liver or adrenal disease because the progestin may increase potassium levels in some patients.

According to the manufacturer, Berlex, Yasmin was tested in 2629 women over more than 33,160 menstrual cycles. Only one pregnancy occurred in 326 patients taking Yasmin during 3201 cycles. The most common side effects associated with the drug were emotional lability, headache, nausea, dysmenorrhea, intermenstrual bleeding and depression. The product should be available in mid June 2001.

Birth Control Pill Contraindications:

You should not take birth control pills if you:

  • are or may be pregnant
  • have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding
  • have a history (in yourself) of breast cancer
  • have liver disease
  • have a history of blood clots or stroke

For further information, speak with your personal physician.

Created: 10/10/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.
Reviewed: 5/21/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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 Physicians are now comfortable prescribing the pill as contraception to non-smoking women over age 35. 

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