Birth control pills are one of the most widely used pregnancy prevention methods in the world, it is estimated that about 55 million women use it today. Popularized as “the pill”, they belong to the group of hormonal contraceptives, known for their safety and high efficacy in preventing unwanted pregnancies. However, this is not its only benefit as the contraceptive pill has other advantages.
What exactly are birth control pills and how do they work?
Birth control pills are a method of hormonal contraception that is administered orally with the aim of regulating the menstrual cycle and inhibiting ovulation. They are prepared based on female hormones, specifically estrogens and progestogens, whose combination and dose are variable since they depend on the brand. It is one of the safest methods of contraception, with an efficiency of around 99%, which means that out of every 100 women who use it correctly, only one becomes pregnant.
In general, most birth control pills share at least one mechanism of action: they inhibit follicular development and prevent ovulation by suppressing the release of gonadotropins. In some cases, they offer a second mechanism of action by modifying the endometrium to prevent ovum implantation, altering the transport of both sperm and oocytes in the tubes or uterus, or varying the density of cervical mucus to prevent the advancement of oocytes. sperm.
What types of birth control pills are there and which one is better?
There are different types of contraceptive pills on the market, but taking into account their use, safety and efficacy, the most used are the classic or combined monophasic, the combined biphasic and the combined triphasic forms. Basically, the classic form, of oral administration for 21-24 days, includes a balanced dosage of estrogens and progestogens throughout the contraceptive cycle.
The biphasic, also administered orally for 21-22 days, has a variable hormonal dose that increases in the first part of the cycle and decreases in the last stage. While the triphasic form, for oral consumption, has a gentle and staggered hormonal balance that is more in line with the woman’s physiological cycle.
The choice of one type or another varies according to the state of health and the needs of each woman. The triphasic form is usually better tolerated, but not all women respond well. Therefore, it is recommended to seek advice from the doctor, who will be in charge of analyzing the health history in each case to suggest the most appropriate contraceptive pills.
The main health benefits of birth control pills
Although originally designed for contraception, birth control pills are now prescribed for other purposes as well. This is due to its regulating effect on female hormones, which not only acts at the reproductive level but also intervenes in many other functions of the body. These are some of its main health benefits:
- They help regularize menstrual cycles, helping to balance the female hormonal system.
- A study conducted at the Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine found that they reduce dysmenorrhea and relieve PMS.
- They reduce menstrual volume, which in turn decreases the risk of iron deficiency anemia.
- They reduce the risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease by between 50 and 60% during consumption, while attenuating its symptoms if they occur.
- An investigation carried out at the San Fernando Health Center in Madrid found that the use of contraceptive pills prevents and reduces the symptoms associated with endometriosis.
- They attenuate some hyperandrogenic manifestations in women such as acne and moderate hirsutism, which is why it is sometimes used as a treatment to regulate these alterations.
- They reduce the risk of developing polycystic ovary syndrome, while attenuating the manifestation of symptoms in the event of the disorder, as revealed by research carried out in Mérida.
- They reduce the risk of developing lutein cysts by 80% and functional ovarian cysts by 50%.
- They have been associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer such as endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine fibroids.
The most common side effects and risks associated with birth control pills
Most medications have short- or long-term side effects, and birth control pills are no exception. In fact, side effects are the cause of approximately 65% of cases of oral contraceptive abandonment. The most common side effects include intermenstrual bleeding, weight gain, nausea, mood swings, increased breast tenderness, and headache, but they are not the only ones.
In some women, other symptoms associated with the use of the contraceptive pill may also appear, such as a decrease in libido, changes in vaginal discharge due to increased or reduced lubrication, and thickening of the cornea of the eyes. In the same way, its use for long periods of time has been related to the increase in certain alterations such as:
- Increased risk of venous thromboembolism, which is nothing more than the formation of blood clots in one or more of the body’s veins. In the case of combined oral contraceptives, the risk can be 2 to 4 times higher.
- Increased chance of developing a heart attack or stroke. The risk is not very high, but it increases as other risk factors are added, such as being older or suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension and/or diabetes.
- Increased propensity to develop breast cancer. This was corroborated by a study in which it was found that the consumption of oral contraceptives increases the risk of developing breast cancer by an average of 20% , a probability that increases with age and time of consumption.