FICTION: You will be infertile or have difficulty conceiving once you're off the pill. "Infertility problems involve a lot of things," says Dr. Jocelyn. Most women are able to become pregnant when they withdraw from oral contraception. Those who have difficulty may need to check if there is a problem with their fallopian tubes, cervical discharge, or cycle of ovulation.
FACT: The pill’s effectiveness is greatly diminished by human error. "Be religious when taking the pill," insists Dr. Zamora-Mariano—meaning that the patient should take the pill at the same time of day, every day. To neglect this would mean decreasing the pill's effectiveness.
FACT: The pill may be responsible for your migraines. The pill's hormones can cause migraines. If you have a history of them, tell your gynecologist.
FACT: The pill could lead to gall bladder stones. Progesterone slows down smooth muscle movement, making some people prone to gall bladder stones and inflammation when they take oral contraception.
FACT: The pill can create a metastasized liver. Because steroids are processed in the liver, prolonged use of birth control pills may cause liver hardening or tumors. "It's one of the problems we have with [trans] people taking pills to enhance their breasts. Some of them develop liver problems and severe hypersensitivity reactions like [the life-threatening] Stevens-Johnson syndrome," warns Dr. Jocelyn. (Be forewarned about Googling images of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, as the results can be quite horrific. —ed.)
FICTION: The pill causes irregular periods, heavy periods, and worse cramps. On top of avoiding pregnancy, oral contraception is used to regulate the menses. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome—a condition that can affect fertility and pregnancy—often turn to birth control pills to address the common symptoms, which include irregular periods or heavy bleeding.
FACT: The pill may cause blood clots. According to Dr. Jocelyn, "Hormones tend to slow down blood flow, so [the pill] is not usually advised for patients who are at risk for stroke or for patients who smoke." That means if you're still puffing away, you need to quit or find another method of birth control. Other people at risk are those with liver disease and high blood pressure. Also, some OB-GYNs recommend refraining from taking birth control at least one month before boarding a long-haul flight to avoid complications like deep vein thrombosis, which is caused by sitting for prolonged period of time.
FACT: The pill could be blamed for depression and loss of sex drive. The pill can affect your mood and cause a loss in libido. This is because taking the pill leads to a decrease in androgens, a kind of hormone that includes testosterone, which is said to fire up the sex drive in both men and women. Rarely, patients have been prescribed anti-depressants alongside birth control.
FACT: The pill could be responsible for weight gain and breast tenderness. "Steroids build up the appetite, however, there are new generation pills which control weight gain or water retention," says Dr. Jocelyn. One new generation pill is Yasmin, which is also known by its generic name drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol. As for breast tenderness, it is a natural result of increased estrogen. It's uncomfortable but not debilitating.
FICTION: The pill causes an increase in acne. Birth control is actually a treatment for acne. Dr. Zamora-Mariano prescribes the Diane-35 pill to patients who want clearer skin. Diane-35 works by reducing androgens (male hormones), which cause pimples, oily skin, and excessive hair growth. Of course, this isn’t a blanket solution (it won’t work for all women), and in many cases it is a Band-Aid solution, as acne can return once the pill is discontinued.
FACT: The pill can spur yeast overgrowths. The high content of estrogen in the pill may cause yeast overgrowth, which can turn into an infection. Although irritating, this possible increase of infections does not mean your immune system is compromised.
FACT: The pill can lead to breast and cervical tumors. Because the pill is hormonal, it may trigger the onset of breast masses. Therefore, Dr. Jocelyn asks patients with a history of breast cancer in their families to refrain from using any hormonal drug. As for cervical cancer, it is not hormonally related, but the pill may contribute to it in other ways. For instance, using the pill might encourage a woman to have sex without a condom. She may acquire HPV in doing so, which can sometimes lead to cervical cancer.
FACT: The pill can cause spotting or inter-menstrual bleeding. When a woman first starts taking the pill, her body must adjust to the new amount of hormones. For some, this means bleeding for longer periods of time. Spotting also happens if a woman misses a dose. Dr. Jocelyn assures that this kind of bleeding is not dangerous. But it is inconvenient.
Though it’s existed for over half a century, the birth control pill continues to be contentious in the Philippines, where its accessibility has only recently been deemed lawful. However, the local controversy surrounding the pill has largely been moral. With all the excitement (or rage, if you’re old guard) that comes with progress, there’s a chance we’re overlooking an important discussion about the pill’s health risks. We sat with gynecologist Dr. Jocelyn Zamora-Mariano once again, to find out what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to the hazards of oral contraceptives.
Consider the risks and how they interact with your medical history. If your OB-GYN supports you taking the pill, great! If not, don’t worry, there are alternatives. But it’s always best to ask your doctor first.
To separate the facts from the myths surrounding the pill, click through the slideshow above!
Art by Dorothy Guya
Acne, birth control, birth control pill, blood clotting, breast tenderness, breast tumors, cervical discharge, cervical tumors, cramps, deep vein thrombosis, depression, Diane-35, difficulty conceiving, Dr. Jocelyn Zamora-Mariano, dysmenorrhea, fallopian tubes, gall bladder stones, gynecologist, heavy period, human error, infertility, inter-menstrual bleeding, irregular periods, loss of sex drive, menstruation, metastasized liver, migraines, OB-GYN, ovulation, polycystic ovarian syndrome, Preen, Preen.ph, pregnancy, spotting, weight gain, Yasmin, yeast infections, yeast overgrowth