Hormonal birth control is a lifesaver for many women trying to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Of course, nonhormonal methods have their benefits too. But hormonal birth control, including the pill, some IUDs, implants, and patches, offer a range of benefits beyond pregnancy prevention.
About 31 percent of women who use birth control pills cite menstrual pain as one of the reasons they continue to take them. Hormonal birth control prevents ovulation. When you don’t ovulate, your uterus doesn’t experience the painful contractions that cause cramps during ovulation.
If you have painful periods, hormonal birth control may also provide some relief for pain during menstruation.
Hormonal fluctuations are often major acne triggers. That’s why acne is usually at its worst during adolescence. By minimizing these fluctuations, hormonal birth control can help to tame hormonal acne.
Birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone (known as combination pills) are the most effective acne fighters.
Hormonal birth control also has some long-term benefits. Women who take combination birth control pills are 50 percent less likely to get uterine cancer. These effects can last for up to 20 years after you stop taking the pill.
It can also reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs that form in your ovaries during ovulation. They aren’t dangerous, but they’re sometimes painful. Women with PCOS often have a large number of small cysts in their ovaries. By preventing ovulation, hormonal birth control can prevent these cysts from forming. They may also stop former cysts from regrowing.
Many women experience some mix of physical or emotional symptoms in the weeks or days leading up to their period. This is known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Like most other menstrual issues, PMS is usually due to hormonal fluctuations.
Hormonal birth control is also a potential treatment for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This is a type of severe PMS that tends to involve more emotional or psychological symptoms. It’s often hard to treat. But a combination pill containing drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol (Yaz) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating PMDD. It’s the only birth control pill to receive FDA approval for this purpose.
Just keep in mind that experts are still trying to fully uncover all the underlying causes of PMS and PMDD. Adding to this, different birth control methods have different doses and combinations of hormones. You may need to try a few options before you find the one that works for your symptoms.
Endometriosis is a painful condition that happens when the tissue lining your uterus, called the endometrium, grows in places other than inside your uterus. This tissue bleeds during your period, no matter where it’s located. When the tissue bleeds in places where blood can’t easily get out of your body, it causes pain and inflammation.
Hormonal birth control methods help because they allow you to skip periods. Continuous birth control pills and IUDs are usually good options for managing endometriosis.
A migraine is an intense type of headache that affects almost 30 million Americans — 75 percent of those being women. This is partly because hormonal changes are a major trigger for migraines in some people.
Experts think menstrual migraines are linked to a drop in estrogen and progesterone just before your period starts. Hormonal birth control methods that allow you to skip your period, such as a continuous pill, implant, or IUD, can help to avoid this drop.
For most menstruating women, bleeding is just a fact of life. But it doesn’t have to be. Most packs of birth control pills come with a week of placebo pills that don’t contain any hormones. They’re just there to keep you in the habit of taking a pill every day. Usually, you’d get your period while taking these placebo pills.
If you have a big vacation or other event coming up during that week, skip the placebo pills. Instead, start a new pack. This method works best if you take monophasic birth control pills, which all contain the same dose of hormones. Read more about skipping the last week of birth control pills in a pack.
Other methods, such as IUDs, rings, and patches, can help you skip your period altogether.
Some women experience very heavy bleeding during their periods. This can increase the risk of anemia. People with anemia don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around their body, which can cause weakness and fatigue.
Hormonal birth control methods that allow you to skip your period can help to prevent period-related anemia.
Hormonal birth control isn’t for everyone. If you smoke and are over the age of 35, it can increase your risk of blood clots and high blood pressure. In addition, some types of hormonal birth control, such as combination pills and the patch, can increase your risk of blood clots and high blood pressure, even in nonsmokers.
For some, hormonal birth control can also cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, from joint pain to psychosis. When choosing a birth control option, make sure to tell your doctor about any side effects you’ve experienced with other methods you’ve tried.
Hormonal birth control also doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections. Unless you’re with a long-term partner and you’ve both been tested, make sure to use a condom or other protective barrier during sexual activity.
Your doctor can help you weigh the benefits and risks of each method to determine what will work best for you. Bedsider, a nonprofit organization committed to preventing unwanted pregnancy, also has a tool that allows you to find providers of free or low-cost birth control in your area.