The Most Common Birth Control Side Effects
If your contraception has led to extra pounds, acne, and other problems, figure out why—and what to use instead
Birth control has one great upside: no pregnancies! (Yes, it’s not a 100-percent guarantee, but it’s pretty darn reliable.) But in order to reap that benefit, you may also have to deal with extra pounds, depression, or other unpleasant side effects. While at times these are just mild irritations, for some women they can become so debilitating that they quit using their BC.
No use resorting to the pullout method, though. There are reasons certain women tend to react differently to each type of contraception—and there’s one out there that’s best for you. Learn what’s up with your body and your alternatives, then talk to your doctor to determine your smartest bet.
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Even if you were the most even-keeled girl out there before you started taking BC, the onslaught of synthetic hormones found in most birth control methods can wreak havoc with your moods, says Elizabeth Reynoso, M.D., an ob-gyn with Drs. Goodman and Partridge in Arizona. All hormonal options contain some amount of a lab-formulated version of estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that, along with testosterone, control your cycles. Reynoso says that occasionally traditional hormonal birth control can exacerbate depression and anxiety because of the effect hormones have on the intricate balance of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine, all “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain. Estrogen in particular plays a role in depression, with too little causing a dip in serotonin—and once this happens, the ovaries produce less estrogen, starting a vicious cycle of feeling bad. On the other hand, too little progesterone is associated with anxiety since the hormone has a calming effect.
Who’s at risk? Women who have a personal or family history of depression or anxiety.
The worst offenders: While any hormonal birth control has the potential to make you depressed or anxious, the Norplant (an implant in your upper arm) has the worst track record, possibly because it is a progesterone-only device and further encourages an imbalance of hormones.
Consider switching to: Reynoso recommends first trying a method with no hormones or fewer hormones, such as the ParaGard IUD (intrauterine device) or Mirena IUD, respectively.