Diagnosed with PCOS? Let me guess—you were probably prescribed a form of hormonal birth control (if pregnancy isn’t a current goal) and were told PCOS is manageable when you take birth control but is it really?
Birth control is often prescribed for PCOS for 4 main reasons—acne, hirsutism, and irregular and painful periods. Personally, birth control was a counterproductive treatment—it intensified my PCOS symptoms and added in new ones as well. When I expressed my concerns to my doctor, my concerns were dismissed. Don’t worry; my goal isn’t to discourage you from taking birth control to treat your PCOS but to inform you birth control isn’t guaranteed to manage your PCOS.
I’ve talked to a few gynecologists about the best PCOS treatments for me and was told by every doctor only birth control can manage my PCOS despite my concerns. Fortunately, I found a way to manage my PCOS without birth control but that’s another story for another time. The main point is birth control doesn’t work for everyone.
How does birth control treat PCOS? By masking PCOS symptoms.
How Birth Control Affects Your Menstrual Cycle
Isn’t birth control supposed to regulate your periods? Yes, but only by doing what your body is already doing (if you have PCOS)—preventing ovulation; which means no periods and an irregular menstrual cycle.
Us cysters (women with PCOS) do not ovulate regularly (which is essential for a period and a healthy menstrual cycle). Taking birth control will not help you ovulate because birth control is made to prevent pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, altering cervical mucus or the endometrial lining .The synthetic hormones found in birth control are made to, “…inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy” according WebMD.
In other words, birth control alters your menstrual cycle by preventing it from doing its job—preparing your body for pregnancy. There are serious consequences when the menstrual cycle becomes abnormal (i.e. PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, and other reproductive conditions develop). Using synthetic hormones to continue to impede an abnormal menstrual cycle will only help your hormones continue to be imbalance and wreak havoc on your health. Our menstrual cycle isn’t a useless monthly occurrence—it alerts us to any abnormalities, pregnancy and fertility status, prepares our bodies for a baby, and help us maintain a healthy body.
Birth control can help with period pain but it cannot give you a normal period or a healthy menstrual cycle. The period like experience women feel on hormonal birth control is called withdrawal bleeding—which is, “the body’s reaction to not having the hormones it gets the other three weeks of the cycle” according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.
(Continue scrolling to resume reading article.)
*The second paragraph details the requirements for healthy menstrual cycle.
If you experience prolonged anovulatory bleeding (abnormal bleeding due to not ovulating) like I did, birth control may not be able to stop the bleeding. I took multiple birth controls to stop my prolonged anovulatory bleeding on different occasions. The first and second time I took birth control pills to stop the bleeding, it worked. However, I discontinued using birth control because the side effects were unbearable. I took various birth controls few more times after that to control my prolonged anovulatory bleeding but none of the birth controls I tried stopped the bleeding despite dosage and method of birth control changes. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take birth control to regulate your prolonged anovulatory bleeding—just keep in mind, birth control isn’t guaranteed to control or stop your prolonged anovulatory bleeding.
At Least Birth Control Can Clear My Skin, Right?
Yes, but it doesn’t clear everyone skin. Acne is caused by surplus sebum—which is caused by high levels of androgen in the body. Sebum is an oil made by the skin and when in excess, “…can clog pores and promote the growth of bacteria that contribute to acne” according to WebMD. Using combination birth control pills (estrogen and progesterone pills) can decrease the levels of androgen produce in the body. As a result, less sebum is produce and acne is less likely to appear.
The FDA approved three types of combination pills to treat acne—Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep, and YAZ. Although, only three brands of birth control pills are approved to treat acne, other birth controls such as, “Yasmin and Alesse have both been clinically shown to improve acne. But neither one has been approved by the FDA yet for this use” according to WebMD.
What About My Facial Hair?
Excess androgen can also cause hirsutism (undesirable masculine hair growth in women). As I mentioned above, combination birth control pills can reduce androgen. Therefore, reducing the severity of hirsutism.
Does this mean birth control is a good method to treat your PCOS? Only if you believe the benefits (potentially reducing period pain, masking acne, and hirsutism) truly outweighs the caveats (horrendous side effects and an irregular menstrual cycle). Check out the wonderful benefits of birth control below.
The Wonderful Benefits Of Birth Control
Progestin only birth control:
- Progestin only birth control increases the risk of diabetes if a woman had gestational diabetes.
- Depo-Provera can cause bone loss and it may not be reversible.
- Irregular periods
- Spotting or bleeding between periods.
- Sore breasts
- Weight gain
- Ovarian Cyst
- Blood clots
- High blood pressure
- Gallbladder complications
- Rare cancerous or noncancerous liver tumors
- Viral infections such as sore throats or flu-like symptoms
- Mood swings
- Back pain
- Stomach cramps
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Brown or black skin patches
- Unusual hair growth
- Bleeding or spotting between periods
- Painful periods
- Irregular periods
- Breast tenderness, enlargement, or discharge
- White vaginal discharge
- Liver complications such as liver tumors
- High blood pressure
- Gallbladder problems
- Painful menstrual periods
- Abdominal pain
- Low libido
- Heart attack
- Blood clots in the legs and lungs are more likely to happen to individuals using the patch due the high amount of estrogen (which is higher than the pill).
- The pill can cause folic acid, B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc deficiency.
- The pill increases the risk of breast, liver, and cervical cancer.
- The pill is classified as a carcinogen and is in the same class (group 1) as tobacco.
- Hormonal birth controls have a lot of same side effects (most I have listed above). If you wish to find out more information about a specific birth control side effect, click the name of the birth control you wish to know more about.
Do these symptoms sound appealing?
It surely doesn’t to me. Treating PCOS with a method that causes the same symptoms as PCOS with additional risky conditions is as ridiculous as prescribing cigarettes to treat lung cancer.
When did getting ovarian cysts, viral infections, and irregular periods from medications become acceptable?
Why are birth control side effects such as low libido, painful periods, anxiety, acne, and blot clots considered acceptable risks; but when people experience these symptoms without the help of medications, these symptoms are considered abnormal and are treated with medications?
Clearly, this way of thinking doesn’t make any sense.
I Quit Birth Control
When I quit birth control in October 2014, I ask myself:
How can birth control help me manage my PCOS when it intensifies my PCOS symptoms, some of the side effects are PCOS symptoms, it has risky and undesirable side effects, and hinders my menstrual cycle—which lets me know my body is healthy and fertile?
The answer is it cannot. Each time I tried birth control, my PCOS became intolerable. I believe birth control isn’t as delightful or beneficial as it’s hyped up to be and there are many women (even women without PCOS or a hormonal imbalance) that feel the same way I do about birth control.
Does this mean you should quit birth control? Maybe, it’s up to you to decide. Just keep in mind, birth control doesn’t cure PCOS; it acts a Band-Aid for PCOS. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers—there is only what you are willing to endure to manage your PCOS.
Thanks for reading!
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