Access to effective and safe contraceptives is probably the most important feminist advancement of the last century and probably did more to empower women than any other single factor. Yet reproductive health remains an issue for women: possible side effects, efficacy and impacts on future pregnancies can all be causes for concern.
The birth control pill was supposed to be the liberator of women until it was announced that it was bad for long term health. The best selling birth control pills Yaz and Yasmin from Bayer AG has recently been in the news. These are new generation birth control pills that could put women at higher risk of developing blood clots, say reports.
These new generation birth control pills contain a synthetic hormone called drospirenone that is thought to have a link with increased blood clot risk. Some consumer groups are calling for the drug to be taken off the market, since there are ‘safer’ alternatives available.
The risk of blood clots is even higher among those women who smoke, have a family history, have a certain body mass index or belong to certain ethnic groups.
So should women stop using these birth control pills? This is a question that has no simple answers. The risk of developing blood clots is slightly increased but it is thought that the benefits of these contraceptive pills outweigh the risks. The studies in respect of Yaz as well as other similar formulations such as Johnson & Johnson’s Ortho Evra birth control are unclear, the FDA has found.
These are not the only reservations that women may have with birth control pills. There are side effects such as weight gain, nausea, melasma, acne, lowering of the female libido and even increase in risk of depression and of hypertension have been associated with the pill.
On the other hand the pill is often used to combat acne, and is known to increase vaginal lubrication in some cases; so the pill can have these opposite and welcome side effects as well.
So how can a woman make an informed decision about whether she should be on the pill or not? Firstly barrier methods such as the female condom and the diaphragm can be considered. These are non-hormonal methods of birth control that can be considered.
Then, if these are found to be inadequate or unsuitable, women can consult with their gynecologist to consider their individual risk factors, and consider the different pill options (combined, low dose and so on) and see what is best for each individual woman.