There are many myths around the use of pills. When seeing a couple for counseling prior to marriage, contraception is usually on the top of the queries. Unfortunately, relatives and friends volunteer to offer information about the pill which are based on old wrong beliefs. Things I commonly hear from patients are that the pill causes infertility; they disturb the body hormones with a long lasting effect. They can cause cancer, could be breast or ovarian cancer. They cause excessive growth of body hair etc…..
I will try to answer some of the queries around the pill, I will not go through the different types of pills as it is outside the scope of this article.
“In fact, it’s possible to get pregnant immediately after going off the pill.”
Myth One: Weight Gain
This is a common pill myth. Some women seem to gain weight on the pill, but research has shown that it isn’t due to pill use. The estrogen in the pill can make some women feel bloated, but this typically goes away. The progestin found in the pill may increase appetite, resulting in weight gain. Also, some women may experience water retention; this can often be reduced by switching over to a lower dose pill.
Myth Two: It Causes Birth Defects
The pill has not been linked to any type of birth defects. Even if accidentally taken in the early weeks of pregnancy during the period of Organogenesis (formation of the organs of the baby).The pill is one of the world’s most researched and prescribed medications. As with any medication, certain health risks are linked to pill use, but serious side effects are rare. About 100 million women worldwide use the pill. For many women, their quality of life is better while taking the pill than when they are not. That’s because the pill also provides health benefits, like minimizing PMS symptoms. The pill has been proven as an extremely safe contraceptive.
“As with any medication, certain health risks are linked to pill use, but serious side effects are rare.”
Myth Three: The Break
Some women have been advised by their doctors to take a break once in a while. Some have even been instructed to take one month rest every four months! There’s no medical reason for a healthy woman to take a break from using the pill. Experts say the pill can be taken for 15 or more years consecutively without any increased risk. However, doctors do advise reviewing contraceptive needs after 10 years of pill taking or at age of 35. In fact, it’s possible to get pregnant immediately after going off the pill. Taking a break can also cause some of the side effects that can be felt when first starting the pill.
Myth Four: Fertility Worries
There is no connection between taking the pill and infertility. Fertility can return almost immediately after stopping the pill, which is why it’s important not to miss any pills. Some women may face a delay in becoming pregnant after stopping pill use, especially if they had irregular periods before starting it. Women using the pill may delay childbearing until their late 30s, a time when natural fertility has waned, thereby confusing pill use as the cause for not becoming pregnant rather than age. Also, a woman may have always had a fertility problem but was unaware of it because she was not trying to get pregnant. Some women may experience a period of amenorrhea (not having periods) after long term use of the pills. The periods usually recur within 6-12 months.
Myth Five: Cancer
Contrary to that believe it has been shown that women who use the pill are 1/3 less likely to get ovarian or uterine cancer than those who don’t. Protection against these cancers increases with each year of use and can last up to 30 years after ending pill use. Most experts believe that the pill doesn’t cause any type of cancer. Recent research suggests that the pill has little if any effect on causing breast cancer and that taking estrogen before menopause doesn’t predispose women to breast cancer.
Myth Six: Aging
Healthy women with normal blood pressure, no increased risk for heart attack or stroke, and who don’t smoke can often use low-dose pills until menopause. The pill may be especially beneficial for pre-menopausal women in their mid-to-late 40s who are having heavy or irregular periods. The pill is not recommended for women over 35 who smoke due to increased health risks.
“Fertility can return almost immediately after stopping the pill, which is why it’s important not to miss any pills.”
Myth Seven: The Risky Time
Women need to take 7 consecutive active pills to prevent ovulation. They can then miss 7 days without the risk of ovulation, which is what occurs during the pill free/reminder pill week of a cycle. So, the least risky time to miss pills is in the middle of a pack. The most unsafe time is at the beginning or end of a pack because it extends the pill-free week past 7 days.
Women who miss pills near the end of their pack may mistakenly think that it doesn’t matter since they are about to have their period. Missing pills near the pill-free week may mean not enough pills have been taken to stop ovulation the next month.
“Recent research suggests that the pill has little if any effect on causing breast cancer and that taking estrogen before menopause doesn’t predispose women to breast cancer.”
Non contraceptive benefits of the pills:
Finally the pill may provide health benefits in addition to preventing pregnancy. Sometimes, women may use the pill solely for these advantages:
- To regulate the periods in women suffering from irregular bleeding.
- They can control the timing of a period with special occasions as wedding, holidays etc, they can be used to stop ovulation pain and reduce menstrual cramps.
- They can reduce PMS symptoms.
- They can be used to lower the risk of anemia, by reducing blood flow.
- They can provide protection against ectopic pregnancy, acne, non-cancerous breast growths, ovarian cysts and cancer.
- They reduce the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease and osteoporosis.
- They can be used to treat excess facial and body hair.
Dr. Gasser El Bishry
MBBCh, MSc, MRCOG
Clinics: 19 El-Shahied Mohamed El-Shibany St, Beside Grand Royal Cafe, El Nozha St, Heliopolis.