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Health

20th Dec 2013

The Six Most Common Myths About the Contraceptive Pill

Debunking the myths when it comes to contraception

We love the internet but there is a lot of rubbish out there, particularly with regards to health. In order to sort fact from fiction, Dr Christina Hennessey has put together a list of the 6 most common myths about the contraceptive pill (combined and mini-pill). If you’ve ever wondered if taking the pill makes you gain weight or if long term usage causes infertility then read on.

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Myth #1 – Taking the pill makes you gain weight

The short answer is probably not.  Contraception: A User’s Handbook cites a tell-tale study that found that, after their first year on the pill, 20% of women gained more than 2kg in weight, 20% lost more than 2kg and 60% experienced no weight change.

When the pill was introduced in the sixties it contained higher levels of hormones than today’s most common pills, which meant that weight gain was more likely. In 2013, a lot of the ‘weight gain’ experienced by women is due to fluid retention, which just means they are carrying extra water. That said, every woman is different and different pills and dosages can have different effects.

Myth #2 – Long term use of the pill can makes you infertile

This is completely false. If anything, pill usage preserves fertility as it reduces the likelihood of ectopic pregnancies, endometriosis and fibroids.

I think that there are two reasons that this myth persists. Firstly, a lot of women don’t understand how the pill affects their reproductive system and assume that it must be ‘up to no good’. In reality, the pill mimics the hormonal effects of pregnancy, in some way a much more natural state of being when you consider our ancestors spent most of their time either making or having babies.

The second reason is that fertility starts to decline for women from about the age of 30. If you have been on the pill for the last decade, you are naturally a decade older and may find it harder to conceive, regardless of whether you have been on the pill or not.

Myth #3 – You must take regular breaks to preserve fertility

As per myth #2, the only reason to take a break is if you want to get pregnant or if you are suffering from unwanted side effects. There is no scientific evidence that suggests that taking a break preserves fertility.

Myth #4 – It’s risky to stop your period

There are no known health risks to stopping your period.

Women choose to postpone their period for many reasons, including pain and inconvenience. They achieve this by taking the taking the pill every day of the month.  Except it’s not their normal period that they are suppressing, but something called ‘withdrawal’ or ‘breakthrough’ bleeding. When you are on the combined pill you don’t get a regular period but rather experience this type of bleeding once a month. By taking the pill continuously you’re suppressing this bleeding, not a natural period.

Myth #5 – The pill must be taken at the same time every day

This is ideal but it really depends on the pill that you are on.

Combined pill: Taking the combined pill at the same time every day is a good habit to get into as you’ll be less likely to miss a dose. However, the combined pill can be taken up to 12 hours late and still offer pregnancy protection.

Mini-pill: The mini- pill should always be taken at the same time every day.  The mini pill would lose its contraceptive effect if taken later than 3 hours after your regular time.

If you take your pills late, I suggest you read the patient leaflet that is in your pill packet. The instructions vary depending on the pill, but you’ll find clear advice about any additional precautions you need to take such as using additional contraception for 7 days.

Myth #6 – The Pill can cause cancer

OK, so this is a slightly difficult myth to explain.  Concerns about cancer relate to the combined pill.

Yes, there is some evidence that women who take the combined pill have a tiny increase in the risk of breast and cervical cancer. This risk thought to be negligible in those under 35.

However, there is also strong evidence that the risk of ovarian cancer and womb cancer is reduced.  It also seems that bowel cancer may be less common in women who are taking the combined pill.

So how are we to make head or tail of this data? The first thing to know is your personal risk depends on many, many different factors. The most important of these are your lifestyle choices. Smoking, being overweight and drinking alcohol above recommended limits are the most common causes of cancer. Your own family history of cancer may also play a part.

For the majority of women, taking the combined pill will offer more protection against cancer than harm. For women over 35 who also have a family history of breast cancer, you may wish to change your pill. However, this is not a strong recommendation, just one to consider. If you are under 35, unless you are known to carry a cancer gene, I do not think you need to worry about the combined pill causing you cancer.

 

If you have any concerns about the topics discussed in this article myself and the Irish clinical team are on hand to advise on the best options available for you. Visit https://www.lloydsonlinedoctor.ie/female_patients/oral_contraception/the_pill for more information.

 

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