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For many, birth control can improve quality of life

May 1, 2017

In a recent study out of Sweden, researchers found a correlation between oral contraceptives and a lower quality of life. Among the 340 women in the study, aged 18 to 35, those given contraceptive stated that their quality of life was “significantly lower” than women given placebos, with quality of life here described as “mood/well-being, self-control and energy level,” all of which purportedly affected negatively by birth control pills.

But for many women, the opposite is true.

“For a lot of patients it makes their lives better,” says Erica Nelson, MD, chief of the Division of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at SIU School of Medicine, as well as associate professor and director of the OBGYN residency program.

Dr. Nelson and other OBGYN specialists use oral contraceptives to not only prevent pregnancy, but to help patients control periods, decrease cramping and discomfort, and decrease mood swings. “Most women who are on them enjoy a better quality of life with better controlled menstrual cycles,” says Dr. Nelson.

This is especially true of adolescent girls having issues with irregular periods or heavy periods. “Some young women have a lot of discomfort to the point where they’re missing school or can’t perform as well in sports or activities,” Dr. Nelson says. “We use oral contraceptive pills a lot to control their menstrual cycles and they work very well, they’re very well tolerated.” Birth control pills with estrogen provide another bonus for teenage girls: they’ve been found to decrease acne. 

Most birth control pills provide a combination of estrogen and progestin, hormones that work together to stop ovulation. But for those who suffer from conditions like pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder or severe PMS, the steady stream of hormones can also even out fluctuating mood changes and stop some of the often debilitating symptoms that might affect their day-to-day life.

Of course, not everyone might have such a positive experience. Dr. Nelson says a small population experience a decreased libido, due to the increase in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which can decrease testosterone.

For women who already suffer from headaches, particularly migraines with aura, the pill is not recommended, as it can risk triggering bad migraines or even stroke. Women who high have a history of blood clots or family problems with estrogen should stick with progestin-only birth control pills, which do tend to cause more irregular bleeding than pills with both progestin and estrogen.

The incidence of negative side effects from oral contraception has decreased significantly over time, Dr. Nelson says. As dosages get lower—as long as they’re not so low breakthrough bleeding occurs—patients are able to enjoy all the benefits the pill can provide. And clearly, there are many.