Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCPs) are being used since 1957 to prevent pregnancy by stopping the release of an egg (ovulation) and also thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb. They are almost 99% effective when taken correctly.
But the pills offer a range of non-contraceptive benefits as well beyond pregnancy prevention. Let’s have a look at them:
Short Term Benefits
- Reduced menstrual blood flow in Heavy menstrual Bleeding (HMB) or Abnormal Uterine Bleeding (AUB): women who have heavy menses or irregular heavy bleeding respond very well to OCPs. Not only the bleeding becomes regular but also less painful and less in amount by thinning the lining of the uterus. Period also becomes more predictable.
- Severe Dysmenorrhoea: they relieve menstrual period pain by reducing the production of prostaglandins and making uterine lining thinner.
- Pelvic Pain: they reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and also relieve the pain and inflammation of endometriosis (when lining of uterus grows at other places). OCPs don’t cure endometriosis but help to control the pain.
- Clearing of skin in Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): Young adolescents or reproductive age women with PCOS who face issues of hyperandrogenism like acne, hair growth, oily skin and also disturbed menstruation respond well as OCPs minimise hormonal fluctuations, lower the level of testosterone and regulate periods.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): OCPs reduce the severity and intensity of premenstrual symptoms (mix of emotional & physical symptoms). Mild PMS is observed in almost 40% women & severe in 4% (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), that responds well to combined pills. They ease mood swings, breast soreness, weight gain and bloating.
- Menstrual Migraine: It is common in almost 50% of women around their period due to a drop in oestrogen and progesterone just before menses start. OCPs help in relieving pain as the continuous pill allows you to skip your period.
- Reduces risk of Ovarian Cysts: Not only do they reduce the chances of ovarian cysts that are fluid filled sacs that form during ovulation but they also stop regrowth of former cysts
- Reduces risk of iron deficiency anaemia: in women who have weakness and fatigue due to heavy menstrual bleeding by reducing menstrual blood flow
- Benign Breast Disease: They reduce the risk of benign breast diseases (fibrocystic disease and fibroadenoma)
- Vaginal Flora has shown more of lactobacilli that help in maintaining pH of vagina thus reducing chances of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs)
- Women with Disabilities: For them, cycle regularisation helps to maintain menstrual hygiene.
- No weight gain: Most studies show no evidence that weight gain is due to OCPs as they have low levels of estrogen (20 -30mcg). If some still feel the weight, they need to check their physical activity routine, calorie intake and metabolic changes as per age.
- Post abortion Contraception: They can protect you from unwanted pregnancy if started after 5 days of first or second trimester abortion in the same cycle.
- Cancer Protection: they reduce the risk of cancer ovary, uterus and colon. The protective effect lasts almost for 20 to 30 years after stopping the pill. There is an overall 30-50% lower risk of cancer and the longer the duration of intake, protection lasts longer.
To conclude, current OCPs have minimal side effects due to lower levels of hormones and offer a wide variety of noncontraceptive health benefits. Making an informed decision by education and counselling can improve compliance among users.