The pill — Useful for more than contraception

All Woman

WOMEN who take the oral contraceptive pill are in full control — not just of their family planning, but of the way their reproductive system functions. Although many women use the oral contraceptive pill to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the hormonal preparation comes with some positive side effects that are sometimes more sought after than its originally intended use.

“For patients with irregular periods, inter-menstrual bleeding or painful periods, the pill may be used to alleviate some of these symptoms,” consultant obstetrician-gynaecologist (OBGYN) Dr Jordan Hardie said.

“The pill may also be used to “skip” or delay a period for women who don't want to be menstruating at a particular moment, or during a particular event.”

The doctor explained that most pills require a woman to take a tablet for 21 days, and then skip seven days before she starts taking the next packet. In those seven days, she will have her period. This makes it easy for a woman to know exactly on which days she will be bleeding, and plan accordingly. She may also manipulate the menstrual cycle by not taking a break from the pills until she is ready for the period.

Dr Hardie said, too, that because the pill regulates hormone levels, it can also be used for conditions that are hormonally charged.

“Other non-contraceptive benefits of the oral contraceptive pill include treatment for acne, as well as hirsutism (a condition that causes excessive male-pattern hair growth in women),” he said. “It may also help to reduce the occurrence of cysts in the ovaries, and reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers.”

Also, because periods often become lighter and shorter for women who take the pill, the chances of developing iron deficiency anaemia is lessened for women who choose this method.

The doctor explained how the hormones in the pill work: “There is the combined oral contraceptive pill which contains an oestrogen and progestin, as well as the progestin-only pill. They work by suppressing ovulation (so no egg is produced), causing thinning of the lining of the womb, preventing implantation, thickening of the cervical mucus (which prevents sperm from migrating up the reproductive tract), and decreasing tubal motility (preventing movement of the egg, if produced, to the uterus),” he explained.

Despite the many benefits, however, the pill also has some common side effects which are not so desirable.

“Side effects may include nausea, vomitting and spotting. Most of these side effects are self-limiting or respond well to treatment, so a patient experiencing these side effects does not necessarily have to stop the contraceptive method,” he pointed out.

“Some patients may experience some, all the listed side effects, or none of the side effects.”

Various brands of oral contraceptive pills are available over the counter locally, so finding one that works for contraception purposes is not very difficult. Dr Hardie still recommends, however, that women have a talk with their doctors to find out what method is best for them, or what could be causing other issues they are trying to fix with the pill.

“All women should seek counselling on contraception to determine which method of contraception is most suitable for them,” he urged. “Women with medical conditions including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, migraines, to name a few, may be at increased risk when taking the oral contraceptive pill.”

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