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Common Reactions to Oral Contraceptives and How They Compare

Common Side Effects

Some of the common side effects of oral contraceptives include but are not limited to:
 
  • Acne, although oral contraceptives can also improve acne (see Birth Control Pills and Acne)
  • Breast tenderness and enlargement
  • Breakthrough bleeding and spotting between periods
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in your eyes that make it more difficult to wear contact lenses
  • Bloating
  • Headaches
  • Changes in sex drive (typically a decrease).
     
Women are often concerned about weight gain due to oral contraceptives, but recent research suggests that oral contraceptives do not cause weight gain for most women (see Birth Control Pills and Weight Gain).
 

Differences in Oral Contraceptive Side Effects

Most oral contraceptives contain an estrogen and a progestin. Those that contain estrogen use the same kind of estrogen (ethinyl estradiol), but the dose of estrogen can vary. Several different types of progestin hormones are used in oral contraceptives. The strength of the estrogen, the type of progestin, and the dose of progestin all play a role in determining which side effects a particular oral contraceptive is likely or unlikely to cause.
 
Some progestins have androgenic activity (testosterone-like activity). These progestins are thought to have a higher risk for acne and excessive hair growth (a condition known as hirsutism). Other progestins have anti-androgenic (anti-testosterone) effects and are thought to be useful for treating acne or excessive hair growth. Some progestins may worsen water retention, while others may help relieve this problem. Differences in estrogen content may affect menstrual bleeding tendencies, and many high-estrogen pills may increase the risk of blood clots.
 
When you and your healthcare provider choose an oral contraceptive that is right for you, be sure to discuss any of these side effects that may concern you. For instance, if you have a problem with acne, your healthcare provider may choose an oral contraceptive that is likely to improve acne rather than worsening it.
 
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Oral Contraceptives Information

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