Most common side effects of contraceptive pills

Finding the right birth control method to suit you can be a case of trial and error that lasts years for many women. There’s a wide variety of contraceptive options, including many different types of pills.

Despite being one of the most popular methods and offering a range of benefits, the contraceptive pill does have a risk of side effects. These can differ from person to person and pill to pill, so Online Doctor has compiled the most common ones to help you make an informed decision.

Remember: Finding a reliable birth control method is great, but even the most effective methods should be used in conjunction with condoms if you’re sexually active with new or casual partners in order to protect yourself from STIs.

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How to find the right contraceptive pills

Birth control isn’t one-size-fits-all, and there is a variety of contraceptive pills on offer. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself – and the questions a doctor will ask too – when trying to decide which kind might work for you:

  • Are you currently sexually active?
  • Do you have any medical conditions?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have a family or personal history of blood clots?
  • Do you have a family history of ovarian or uterine cancer?
  • Are you taking any other medications?

Common side effects

Just like any other kind of medicine, using the contraceptive pill can have side effects. Not all women will be affected the same way by the same pill. Be aware that it can also take up to three months for your body to get used to the hormones in a pill, side effects will often improve after this time.

Common side effects include:

  • Changes in body weight
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings or depression
  • Migraines or headaches
  • Nausea
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting
  • Skin rash and/or acne
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Lowered libido 
  • Cystitis

Make sure to read the patient leaflet that comes with your contraceptive prescription. This will details common and rare but serious side effects. If you suffer from the following, you must consult a doctor immediately:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden chest pain
  • Severe tummy pain
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic pain

Treating side effects of the contraceptive pill

Talk openly with your doctor about how you feel on your contraceptive pill. While there’s no specific treatment for many of the possible side effects, you may find relief from them with some of these simple home remedies when the symptoms are bad:

  • Eat only light food, such as crackers, and avoid greasy or fried foods and alcohol
  • Drink ginger or peppermint tea
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently
  • Try gentle exercise, such as yoga or stretching

Changing brands or methods of contraceptive

There are a variety of reasons why you might want to change your contraceptive option – perhaps you’ve experienced uncomfortable side effects, or you’re looking for something a bit cheaper. Whether you’re changing your contraceptive pill or are completely changing from another form of hormonal contraception, it’s very important to follow the instructions on the patient leaflet of your new medicine and to consult a GP if you have concerns.

When switching brands or methods, you may also need to use another form of contraceptive, such as condoms, in order to stay protected against pregnancy whilst it takes effect – your doctor can advise you of the time this will take.

No matter your situation, if you’ve got questions you can always visit your nurse, GP, or your local sexual health (family planning) clinic for more advice about changing contraception. Alternatively, you can use Online Doctor’s contraceptive consultation service to find a suitable option for you with no face-to-face appointment needed.

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