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Is Hormonal Birth Control Safe?

Obstetrics & Gynecology located in Amarillo, TX

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Hormonal contraceptives like the pill, the patch, and the implant have helped millions of women stay in control of their family planning choices and reproductive health. Learn more about the safety of hormonal birth control here.

Nearly all women (99%) who are sexually active say they’ve used some form of contraception to prevent pregnancy at least once in their lives. Most women (87.5%) say they rely on a highly effective reversible birth control method — like the pill or an IUD — to stay in control of their family planning choices and reproductive health. 

The pill and other forms of hormonal birth control are highly effective forms of contraception, to be sure; when taken as directed, the pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Still, you may have questions about the safety of hormonal methods, especially if you’ve heard they can increase your risk of blood clots and breast cancer. 

Read on as our seasoned team of board-certified women’s wellness experts at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology in Amarillo, Texas, sets the record straight on hormonal birth control, so you can make an informed decision about which contraception method is best for you. 

How does hormonal birth control work?

Hormonal contraceptives use hormones — either estrogen and progestin or progestin only — to prevent pregnancy. They stop the joining of an egg and sperm (fertilization) by:

  • Blocking the release of eggs from your ovaries to suppress ovulation
  • Thickening the mucus on your cervix to keep sperm out of your uterus 
  • Thinning the lining of your uterus so it’s not conducive to implantation

Essentially, if your ovaries don’t release an egg each month, there’s no egg available to fertilize when you have sexual intercourse. Hormonal birth control is 93% to 99% effective, depending on the method and whether it’s used as directed. 

Different types of hormonal birth control 

Hormonal contraception may be taken by mouth (the pill), injected (birth control shot), placed on your skin as a patch (birth control patch), placed in your vagina (vaginal ring), inserted under your skin (birth control implant), or inserted in your uterus (hormone-releasing IUD). 

 Of these six options, two — the implant and the IUD — are long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods, meaning once they’re in place, they work for years and don’t require action on your part. The other four options are used on a specific schedule. 

 The pill, contraceptive patch, and vaginal ring are considered “combined” hormonal methods because they contain both estrogen and progestin; the mini-pill, the shot, implants, and IUDs are progestin-only methods. 

Potential risks of hormonal birth control 

Every day, millions of women safely rely on hormonal contraceptives to prevent pregnancy or help treat other health concerns, like menstrual discomfort. Even so, all medications come with beneficial effects as well as potential risks and side effects, and hormonal birth control is no different. 

 For a small percentage of women, combination methods — or those that contain both estrogen and progestin — are associated with a slightly increased risk of developing:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots 
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Liver tumors

 Current research regarding combination hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer risk has shown mixed results. Some studies show a very slight increase in breast cancer risk, while others show no increase in breast cancer risk, including among women with a family history of the disease. 

Luckily, many women who can’t use estrogen-containing hormonal contraceptives can safely use one of the progestin-only options. 

Who should avoid hormonal birth control?

Hormonal birth control isn’t the right — or safest — choice for everyone. First and foremost, it’s important to know that smoking and estrogen-containing hormonal contraceptives don’t mix. The potential cardiovascular risks associated with combination birth control pills, patches, and vaginal rings become more likely if you smoke, especially as you age. 

For this reason, you should avoid estrogen-containing methods if you’re a smoker, more so if you’re 35 or older. You should also avoid using combination methods if you have a history of: 

  • Uncontrolled hypertension 
  • Unmanaged diabetes
  • Severe liver disease
  • Blood clots or a clotting disorder
  • Vein inflammation (phlebitis
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Migraine headaches with aura

While hormonal methods without estrogen are safe for most women, our team still evaluates your complete medical history before prescribing progestin-only birth control. You may need to avoid progestin-only contraceptives and look for a nonhormonal method if you have a history of lupus, liver or kidney disease, breast cancer, or reproductive cancers. 

To learn more about the pros and cons of all the contraception options available at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology, or to schedule a visit at our office, give us a call at 806-359-5468 today.