Are birth control pills safe? Know benefits, side effects, alternatives and myths

Birth control pills are the most commonly used contraceptives globally. Here's everything you need to know about birth control pills.
birth control pills
Everything you need to know about birth control pills. Image courtesy: Adobe stock
Arushi Bidhuri Published: 5 Apr 2024, 18:15 pm IST
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Birth control pills are a boon for anyone trying to avoid unwanted pregnancies. They have become an integral part of reproductive health for millions of people across the world. These tiny pills are a great way to prevent unplanned pregnancies, regulate menstrual cycles, and even manage certain health conditions. While birth control pills are used widely, there are many myths and confusion around their use. From benefits to side effects to risks, here’s everything you need to know about birth control pills.

What are birth control pills?

Birth control pills or oral contraceptives are medications that contain synthetic hormones, changing the way your body works and preventing pregnancy. It helps avoid pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, thickening cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg, and thinning the uterine lining to prevent implantation, explains Dr Vaishali Sharma.

There are two types of birth control pills: combination pills, which contain both estrogen and progestin and the other is mini-pills that only contain progestin. They are believed to be 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, and 93 percent in case someone forgets to take the pill.

Also Read: Can birth control pills affect your sex drive?

woman holding pills
Know the effectiveness of contraceptive pills. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the benefits of birth control pills?

Hormonal birth control pills can help prevent unwanted pregnancy, but here are the other health benefits of these pills:

  • Regulates menstrual cycle
  • Reduces ovarian cysts
  • Alleviates uterine cancer risk
  • Helps get rid of hormonal acne
  • Relieves PMS symptoms
  • Manages endometriosis
  • Helps control menstrual hygiene
  • Makes periods less painful

What are the risks of birth control pills?

While birth control pills are considered safe and effective, there are certain risks and side effects o  these pills that you should know:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irregular bleeding

More serious complications of birth control pills include:

  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Certain types of cancer

These complications are more common in people with specific factors such as smoking, obesity, or a history of blood clots.

What are the long-term effects of birth control pills?

The long-term effects of these pills can be both beneficial and concerning. On one hand, they have been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, alleviate menstrual cramps and acne, and regulate menstrual cycles. On the other hand, prolonged use may increase the risk of certain health issues such as heart complications, liver tumors, and mood changes, as per the expert.

Regular use of oral contraceptives have also been associated with a higher risk of breast cancer by a study published in the American Society of Preventive Oncology. Another study in the Lancet found that the higher the use of oral contraceptive, the higher the risk of developing cervical cancer. In short, they can be beneficial for short term use but long term use of oral contraceptives may lead to complications.

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Also Read: Birth control pills are not as safe as we think they are. Here’s why

Are there any alternatives to birth control pills?

Do you not prefer birth control pills? If your answer is no, there are several alternative contraceptive methods out there that you can try. Barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms, hormonal methods like the contraceptive patch, ring, or injection, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and fertility awareness-based methods. While there are several options, you should always consult a healthcare provider to determine the most suitable method based on individual needs and preferences.

Birth control pills vs morning-after pills: What’s the difference?

While both birth control pills and morning-after pills are used to prevent pregnancy, they serve different purposes and contain different hormones. They can be taken daily to prevent pregnancy, whereas morning-after pills, also known as emergency contraception, are taken after unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Additionally, while birth control pills contain synthetic hormones, morning-after pills typically contain higher doses of progestin or a combination of hormones.

Can regular birth control pills be used as emergency contraception?

Regular birth control pills can be used as emergency contraception, even though they are not designed for this purpose. The most popular and common regimen recommended is taking a combination of different contraceptive pills that contain greater dosages of both progestin and oestrogen within 72 hours of unprotected sexual activity. When it comes to the right amount and timing of emergency contraception, it is imperative to get advise from a healthcare emergency, says the expert.

Do birth control pills work for PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone problem in women that affects their ovaries, the female reproductive organ that make eggs and where babies grow. Birth control pills or oral contraceptives are the most common and effective ways for managing symptoms of PCOS. Oral contraceptive pills may help manage the symptoms of PCOS, found a study published in the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences.

The expert says that they can help regulate menstrual cycles, reducing androgen levels and alleviate symptoms such as acne and hirsutism (abnormal hair growth on a woman’s body or face). Hormonal imbalance is a symptom and a cause of PCOS. Taking oral contraceptives can help manage the symptoms of PCOS and improve overall reproductive health by suppressing ovulation and stabilising hormone levels. However, it is crucial to discuss the risks and benefits of birth control pills with a healthcare provider, especially for women with an underlying condition.

Also Read: Women with PCOS can reduce type 2 diabetes risk with contraceptive pills: Study

Common myths around birth control pills

While using birth control pills is common, here are some common myths and misconceptions associated with it that you should stop believing:

Myth 1: Birth control pills cause weight gain

Fact: While some individuals may experience certain weight changes while taking birth control pills, it is not a universal side effect. There are several other factors that affect weight gain, including your metabolism and lifestyle habits.

Libido and obesity
Know if contraceptive pills lead to weight gain or not. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Myth 2: They increase infertility risk

Fact: The common belief that the use of birth control pills can lead to delays or negatively impact fertility is completely false. There is no evidence to suggest that these pills lead to infertility.

Myth 3: Birth control pills offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Fact: Birth control pills do not and cannot protect you against STIs. For the unversed, STIs can be caused by infection with certain bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms that can be passed from one person to another through semen, blood, vaginal fluids, and other bodily fluids. It is essential to use condoms or other barrier methods that help reduce the risk of STIs.

Myth 4: Birth control pills are 100 percent effective

Fact: While they are highly effective when used correctly, no contraceptive method is 100 percent foolproof. It is essential to use them consistently and has directed to maximise effectiveness.

Myth 5: They only prevent pregnancy

While these pills are primarily used to prevent pregnancy, they also offer other health benefits, such as regulating menstrual cycles and reducing the risk of certain cancers.


Birth control pills are a convenient and effective way to prevent pregnancy and manage certain health conditions. When they come with risks and side effects, their benefits often outweigh the potential drawbacks. Knowing the risks and benefits of how birth control pill works, individuals can take control of their reproductive health and make choices that align with their needs and references.

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About the Author

Arushi Bidhuri is a journalist with 7 years of experience in writing, editing, and conceptualizing story ideas across different genres, including health and wellness, lifestyle, politics, beauty, fashion, and more. Arushi has a strong connection in the industry that helps her write concise and original stories as she believes in working towards writing pieces that can enlighten people. ...Read More

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