Is birth control right for you? Understand your options

Women's Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Oct 16, 2018

Have you been thinking about getting on birth control, switching birth control methods or want to know if it might be a viable treatment option for your symptoms? As an OB/GYN, I understand every woman has unique needs, and when it comes to contraception, your decision is a choice that is personal to you.

So, let’s dive into the options, debunk myths and prepare you with some conversational questions to ask your OB/GYN during your next doctor’s visit.

Types of contraception

When it comes to contraception, the possibilities are numerous. So, let’s break them down into the following categories:

  1. Short-term hormonal methods — include pills, patches, rings and regular injections
  2. Long-acting methods — include implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  3. Permanent methods — include tying, removing or occluding your tubes, and/or vasectomy
  4. Barrier methods — include things like condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, etc.
  5. Emergency contraception methods — include over-the-counter and prescription options

Within each category above lie many options, with differing advantages and degrees of efficacy. So, you may wonder, “Where do I start?” or If I decide to use contraception, how do I know which one is right for me?”

Questions to consider about birth control

When deciding on a new method of birth control, there are three important questions every woman should consider with her physician. Let’s talk through each one individually.

1.    What are my goals in using birth control?

It is important to ask yourself this question. Many people choose a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. However, it is well known that birth control can effectively treat a wide range of conditions including acne, hirsutism, heavy or irregular bleeding, painful periods, etc.

Express your goals and plans to your doctor. This will help inform recommendations personalized to you.

Additionally, your age and reproductive plans should factor into your decision. Would you like to postpone pregnancy for a few months, for the next five to 10 years or are you done with childbearing altogether?

Express your goals and plans to your doctor. This will help inform recommendations personalized to you.

2.    What are the potential side effects?

Every woman should be educated on what to expect with any new medication. Birth control is no exception, and side effects vary with each chosen method. Common and non-serious side effects for many options might include nausea, breast tenderness, bloating, acne/oily skin, vaginal discharge and weight gain.

Other potentially serious side effects might include high blood pressure, blood clots, worsening of mood disorders, etc. It is important to know these before choosing a method. The common side effects of birth control are usually temporary and treatable, and serious side effects are rare. Talking with your doctor will help you understand your options if you do decide contraceptive methods are right for you.

3.    Are there factor(s) about me that might make one method better than another?

This one seems vague but let’s clear it up. “Know thyself” — this is an old but important command. Here is what I mean:

  • Do you remember to take medications regularly? Or do you sometimes forget to brush your hair, much less take a pill?
  • Is the idea of something long-lasting very appealing, or do you cringe at the thought of having an implant or device in your body?
  • What is your medical history? Do you have a personal or family history of blood clots? Do you smoke or have migraines?
  • Is there a family history of breast, ovarian, uterine or colon cancer?

The answers to these questions can be the deal maker or breaker for your doctor when discussing recommendations for your care.

These questions may seem unrelated. After all, how can being forgetful about taking pills and cancer be in the same conversation? Well, the answers to these questions can be the deal maker or breaker for your doctor when discussing recommendations for your care. So, I say, know thyself, then don’t be shy to share these details with your doctor.

Frequently asked questions about birth control

Finally, let us end with some of the most common questions I get from my patients and friends about birth control.

Does birth control cause infertility?

No. This is the long and short of it. No contraceptives have been linked to infertility. Your age (and other risk factors) at discontinuation of birth control is more predictive of fertility than the use of birth control itself.

I have heard stories of women’s IUDs and implants moving and also of people getting blood clots from birth control. Will this happen to me?

Serious side effects can occur with different birth control options, but these are very rare. Make sure to discuss your complete medical history with your doctor and express your concerns.

Will I get cancer from using birth control?

Many studies support a correlation (not causation) between some birth control options and breast cancer. Studies also support a decreased risk of other cancers in birth control users including colon cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer. While cancer is a serious consideration, it should be weighed in the context of personal and family history, and the advantages of the chosen or recommended method.

Talk to a Baylor Scott & White OB/GYN about your options when it comes to birth control.

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