Birth Control: More Than Preventing Pregnancy
By: Rebecca Israel, Peer Educator
November 24th, 2020
We are back to talking about everyone's favorite topic: birth control! In part one, we discussed what the menstrual cycle, what types of birth control there are, and introduced the idea that birth control does not just prevent pregnancy. So, in this blog, we'll look at some other uses for birth control.
Disclaimer: It is essential to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or your gynecologist to discuss birth control options, especially if you are interested in using them for more than just pregnancy prevention.
So, which methods are best to use when not only focusing on preventing pregnancy?
In short, there are many options depending on what benefits you are looking for. This would be best to discuss with your healthcare provider, but we'll cover some common uses of birth control for health benefits, other than pregnancy prevention.
For vagina owners that have heavy bleeding (>80mL blood loss per period), hormonal contraceptives are an effective way to reduce bleeding by an average of 43% (National Coalition for Sexual Health). Furthermore, many menstruating adults suffer from irregular periods, which means a cycle that is outside a 21-35 day range or varies in length from cycle to cycle. Although, note that this can be completely normal and may not need hormonal contraceptive use. According to Dr. Gray in discussion with the National Coalition for Sexual Health, many people with irregular menstrual cycles do not ovulate regularly, which is why hormonal birth control can help normalize their hormone cycle and thus their menstrual cycle. There are many hormonal contraceptive methods that could help normalize your cycle; you and your healthcare provider would be able to work together to figure it out (there are also apps that can connect you virtually with a provider if you cannot/do not wish to work with your doctor. Planned Parenthood can assist especially for those needing financial help!).
Just because one has the genitalia to menstruate, it does not mean that they want to. Transgender men that wish to stop their cycle can opt to utilize hormonal contraceptives to stop from menstruating. Additionally, women that want to skip their cycle from convenience or medical conditions (PMS, migraines, etc.) can opt to do so through hormonal contraceptives as well. This would require talking to your healthcare provider to decide the method best suited for your needs!
Common Hormonal Contraceptives for Regulation/Suppression:
When you are trying to use hormonal contraceptives to treat any medical condition, it is imperative that you disclose these to your healthcare provider. Migraine with aura sufferers cannot use hormonal contraceptives that contain estrogen because it puts them at risk for stroke (1) and cardiovascular diseases. However, progestin-only contraceptive choices do not seem to have the same effect according to preliminary studies. It is unlikely to have these side effects even with the estrogen contraceptive, but it is important to realize that hormones are complex and therefore hormonal contraception should be discussed with a healthcare provider.
The figures say that hormonally female people suffer from migraines more frequently than hormonally male people, which is largely attributed to the complex nature of female hormones and menstrual cycles. For this reason, many of the migraines female hormone bearers suffer are menstrual migraines and hormonal birth control can normalize the sex hormone levels throughout a menstrual cycle and effectively reduce the intensity or frequency (2) of migraine attacks.
Common Hormonal Contraceptives for Migraines:
Many people suffer from cyclical acne caused by sex hormones called androgens (3), which trigger oil production in the skin and results in break outs. Hormonal contraceptives can in the long run decrease androgenic activity, but this would not be an effective acne treatment for resolving a sudden, nonrecurring breakout. Due to the complex nature of what hormones need to be regulated to prevent/reduce acne, there are specific formulations of hormonal contraceptives that will work and they may not be for everyone.
Common Hormonal Contraceptives for Acne (4):
- Combination (Estrogen/Progesterone) Pill
- Sometimes: Patch & Ring
PMS & PMDD
Approximately 75% of the menstruating population has some form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS is an encompassing term for annoying things that happen right before your period, including but not limited to: breast tenderness, headaches, mood swings, bloating, fatigue, etc. Furthermore, a smaller percentage of that population have a severe form of PMS, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Those that have PMDD have at a minimum five PMS symptoms, one must be mood related, and it must impact the ability to complete daily activities. Please note that every menstruating person with PMS/PMDD symptoms may have a variety of experiences with these conditions and that every one of them is valid. Hormones are weird, y'all!
The concept for treatment of PMS/PMDD with hormonal contraceptives is to normalize/suppress ovulation so that hormone levels are more consistent throughout the menstrual cycle. The difficulty with these conditions is that unless you suppress menstruation completely, often even those on contraceptives will still have some PMS symptoms. Although, many women see severity or frequency decrease with treatment. If you work with a healthcare provider, you may be able to make PMS/PMDD more bearable.
Common Hormonal Contraceptives for PMS/PMDD:
- This is a hormone that can be in birth controls that doctors are currently testing on PMS/PMDD for help controlling the conditions.
To Sum It Up
If you are struggling with your hormone cycles (regardless of sex or gender identity), there are treatments and options available to you! Reach out to a healthcare provider and they will help you with whatever medical concerns you may have. Finding the right birth control for a specific reason can be a long process, many times including lots of trial and error, but we want you to know that we at RISE are here for you! We want every TTU student to feel their very best, always.