Birth Control: Options and Health Benefits

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 1:55 PM

birth controlChoosing the right birth control method can be difficult; there are a variety of options available and nearly every type can affect different women in different ways. Ultimately the best method for each individual woman will be the one that doesn’t cause side effects that disrupt and impede normal daily activities and one she will use consistently. 

Diana Atashroo, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology at NorthShore, discusses how birth control works, as well as birth control options and possible benefits beyond pregnancy prevention: 

Hormonal birth control, often referred to as “the pill,” contains estrogen and progestin. Birth control reduces the risk of pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, or the time during a woman’s cycle when a mature egg leaves the ovaries. The pill also causes a thickening of the mucus of the cervix making it impenetrable to sperm and keeping the lining of the uterus thin.

Birth control options include:

Hormonal methods:

  1. A pill (typically a combination of estrogen and progestin, though progestin-only is also available.
  2. Skin patch changed weekly
  3. Injection given every three months
  4. Vaginal ring changed every month

Implanted devices (with and without hormones):

  1. Implant under the bicep for up to three years
  2. Intrauterine device (IUD) for between five to ten years

Health Benefits: 
The most common use of oral contraception is the prevention of pregnancy. While the daily contraception pill is the most popularly used and prescribed medication, the most effective method is the implanted devices. With appropriate use of these methods of contraception they are 99% effective. 

However, birth control is not prescribed or taken exclusively for the prevention of pregnancy. There are several benefits to hormonal birth control, and many women choose to take it for these reasons:

PMS symptom relief. Hormones have been shown to provide significant relief of many of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including menstrual cramps, headaches, depression, heavy or irregular periods and hormonal acne.

Iron deficiency anemia. Women with heavy periods often experience iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss. Hormonal birth control can make heavy periods lighter.

Reduces risk for some cancers. Birth control has been shown to potentially reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian, endometrial and colon cancers.

Bone thinning. Some studies have shown that the use of birth control helps protect against bone thinning, which begins in most women after age 30.  

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