Exposing the Myths about Oral Contraceptives

January 20, 2008

Nearly 50 years after it was first introduced, the contraceptive pill is still the subject of widespread myths and misconceptions. Following is a look at the truth behind some of the most common and enduring myths.

Myth:   The pill is not safe.

Truth:   The pill has been shown to be very safe, and serious side effects are rare.

With a long and extensive body of research and more than 100 million current users the contraceptive pill has an exceptionally good history of safety. As with all medications, the pill involves some level of risk and may not be suitable for every woman’s individual situation. Your doctor is best able to recommend the best contraceptive option for you.

Research has also shown no link between the pill and any type of birth defect.

Myth:   Taking the pill can harm a woman’s future fertility.

Truth:   The pill does not cause infertility; in most cases, fertility returns very soon after a woman stops taking it. For some women especially those who experienced irregular periods before they began taking the pill a return to fertility may take a bit longer. Difficulty conceiving after discontinuing the pill is more likely to be linked to age or a previously undiagnosed fertility problem unrelated to pill use.

Myth:   The pill increases a woman’s cancer risk.

Truth:   Most experts believe the pill has no effect on a woman’s risk of cancer, and the pill appears to lower a woman’s risk of certain cancers.

Women who take the pill have been shown to have a reduced risk of contracting ovarian or uterine cancer, with the risk dropping with each year of taking the pill. Some doctors recommend that women at higher risk for ovarian cancer take the pill for at least five years simply for its cancer-protecting properties.

More recently, breast cancer research found little or no evidence of a link between the pill and breast cancer.

Myth:   The pill can cause weight gain.

Truth:   Research has proven that the pill doesn’t cause women to gain weight. Some women experience occasional temporary water retention or bloating related to the estrogen that’s contained in the pill. For most women, weight gained during the time they take the pill is more likely to be the normal weight gain that occurs during the body’s aging process.

Myth:   Contraception is the pill’s only use.

Truth:   In addition to its use as a contraceptive, the pill has been prescribed for other health purposes, including:
  • More control over the timing of a period;
  • More regular periods;
  • Reducing ovulation pain, menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms;
  • Lowering one’s risk of anemia, a condition more common in women who experience heavy periods;
  • Increased protection against ectopic pregnancy, osteoporosis, ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer, among others.
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