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What are the side benefits of birth-control pills?

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Birth control has been used for many years to prevent unintended pregnancies. It is also used to help prevent the formation of ovarian cysts and to treat heavy and painful periods by regulating the cycle to be shorter and lighter

Birth control pills have been used to prevent cycles during inconvenient times such as a wedding/honeymoon/vacation or sports event and more recently many of our military women serving in combat areas used pills to prevent their menses altogether.

Birth control can help with anemia caused by heavy periods and some pills have even had some benefit with acne and certain types of migraines associated with menstrual cycles.

Birth control pills have some protective effects against uterine and ovarian cancer and may help prevent PID infections although it is important to remember that birth control pills will NOT prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Menstrual periods can interfere with a woman's life, from school to social activities. Whether a woman suffers from heavy bleeding, painful periods, fatigue due to chronic anemia (because of heavy bleeding), headaches or mood changes, the pill can often help alleviate those symptoms.

Pelvic pain, either because of painful periods or other conditions, such as endometriosis or fibroids, is one of the leading causes of women missing school and work. Many women who are treated with the pill are able to function at the level they were accustomed to prior to the pain. Continuous use of pills can resolve the symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder for many women.

Beyond controlling reproductive cycles, there are other benefits to the pill. These include the potential to slow excess hair growth and acne because they suppress production of the male hormone, prevention of menstrual migraines, improving bone mineral density, normalizing irregular periods and allowing women to avoid having their period at inconvenient times, such as during a business trip, vacation or honeymoon.

The scientific evidence shows that the longer a woman uses the birth control pill, the lower her risk for developing endometrial and ovarian cancer later in life, up to 20 years after discontinuing use. The pill also seems to offer some short-term protection against colorectal cancer among current or recent users. Women using the pill for noncontraceptive benefits generally return to fertility soon after discontinuing the medication. On the opposite side of the coin, women who have completed child bearing and may be entering the perimenopausal state can benefit from the hormone balance the combined pill provides. Because of legislative changes, most every financial barrier to the pill has been eliminated.

Dr. Laura E. Corio, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Benefits of birth control pills are the following: decrease the risk of uterine, ovarian and colon cancer, regulate menstrual cycles, decrease perimenopausal symptoms, decrease heavy bleeding and cramping. And of course, birth control pills will protect against pregnancy.

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Besides the obvious—lighter and more predictable periods—birth control pills can help to decrease anemia and keep you from having ovarian cysts. A woman on birth control pills for 10 years or more has an 80 percent decreased chance of ovarian cancer.

The pill works primarily through influencing estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that cycle in women naturally. Beyond controlling reproductive cycles, there are other benefits to the pill. These include:

  • the potential to slow excess hair growth and acne because they suppress production of the male hormone
  • prevention of menstrual migraines
  • improving bone mineral density
  • normalizing irregular periods
  • allowing women to avoid having their period at inconvenient times, such as during a business trip, vacation or honeymoon

Conventional birth-control pills, which use the hormones estrogen and progestin, have several non-contraceptive benefits. These include having shorter periods with less cramping and bleeding, a reduced risk of iron-deficiency anemia, decreased bleeding from fibroids and the growth of fibroids, and possible protection against rheumatoid arthritis. These pills also protect against the following:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Non-cancerous breast disease
  • The formation of ovarian cysts
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine and ovarian cancer

Birth-control pills do not protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Besides preventing pregnancy, other health benefits of birth control pills include a more regular menstrual cycle, lighter bleeding, and less menstrual pain. They also reduce the risk for ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancies, and benign breast disease. Women who use birth control pills have lower rates of colon cancer. Birth control pills suppress ovarian androgens and make hairs less thick. The process may take one or two years of use for a full effect.

Birth control pills may protect against ovarian cancer. Among women with first-degree relatives (mother, sister, or daughter) who had ovarian cancer, using the pill for four years or more greatly lowers the rate of ovarian cancer. In one study, the rate of cancer in such women was 90 percent lower than that of women who did not take birth control pills. They lower the risk for ovarian cysts as well.

Birth control pills may reduce acne. Several types have been approved by the FDA for treating acne in women who have begun menstruating and who want to use birth control.

Birth control pills cannot cure endometriosis, but may reduce the symptoms. Symptoms return when the woman stops using the pill.

Birth control pills reduce the amount of blood lost in each menstrual cycle. They also reduce the number of days of bleeding. Birth control pills reduce the amount of menstrual blood flow and thus reduce the risk for anemia. Birth control pills also help make the menstrual cycle more regular.

Birth control pills can reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as breast tenderness, cramps, and pain. Pills that contain drospirenone are approved for treating premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe form of PMS. More research is needed to know if these types of pills are more effective than other birth control pills for milder PMS symptoms.

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor. 

A new study has reaffirmed the link between birth control pills and an increased risk of stroke-causing blood clots. But does that mean should you stop taking birth control? In this Treadmill Talk, Sharecare expert Dr. Michael Roizen shares his view.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The birth control pill offers some unexpected benefits besides preventing pregnancy. In this video, I will explain the pill's surprising anti-cancer bonus.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.