When I have the conversation about starting birth control pills with my young women, I am always surprised by how much misinformation there is out there about oral contraceptives (OCs.) Here are the common myths about OCs.
Myth 1. They will make me gain weight: Many women believe that oral contraceptives cause weight gain. Available data, however, suggests this is not the case. Baseline weight, percent fat, percent water, and waist-to-hip (WHR) ratio did not change significantly after six cycles in OC users in several large studies.
Myth 2. They cause breast cancer: Most studies have not demonstrated an association between OC use and the risk of breast cancer later in life.
Now, if women have a mom or sister with breast cancer, or are BRCA positive that is a different story.
Myth 3. They cause ovarian cancer: No, it’s the opposite. Studies have consistently shown that prolonged use of oral contraceptive pills (OCs) reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. Importantly, the protective effect persists for 30 years after stopping OCs.
Myth 4. They cause uterine (Endometrial) cancer: Again, it’s the opposite. The use of oral contraceptive pills decreases the risk of endometrial cancer. The protective effect of oral contraceptives persists for at least 15 years after you stop taking them.
Myth 5. They cause heart attacks: Nope. While oral contraceptive use in women over age 35 who smoke is associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular events, overall mortality rates are not increased, and may actually be decreased. Young, nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives do not have an increased long-term risk of death, and may actually have a small benefit.
Myth 6. They will raise my cholesterol: The effect of OCs on cholesterol does depend somewhat on which pill you take; but in general, triglycerides may increase slightly but there are no consistent changes in high-density (HDL) or low-density (LDL) lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations.
Myth 7. They will affect my fertility, making it harder to get pregnant later: When you discontinue your birth control pill it may be several months before ovulatory cycles return, but there is no increased risk of infertility. To the contrary, the risk of infertility may be reduced in women who have taken OCs
Myth 8. Taking pills will affect my sex drive. Data on the impact of estrogen-progestin contraceptives on female sexuality are conflicting. Although OCs suppress serum testosterone concentrations, there are no definitive data that they have a negative impact on libido (sexual desire.)
Myth 9. They will make my fibroids (Uterine fibroids) grow: Use of low dose OCs does not cause fibroids to grow. Therefore taking birth control pills is not a problem in women with fibroids.
- Dr. O
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