Oral Contraceptive Pills or over-the-counter pills are primarily used as contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Most of them are a combination of oestrogen and progesterone, while there are progesterone pills that prevent the fertilisation of eggs along with some benefits and mild side effects for women.
We spoke to Dr Pratibha Singhal, Director and Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Noida, to understand what are the other reasons for using OCPs and how the body reacts in case you suddenly stop taking them.
How Do OCPs Work To Prevent Pregnancies?
Much like an intrauterine device, OCPs also inhibit ovaries from releasing eggs which helps to prevent pregnancy. There are various combinations of pills available under different brands. You can find a pack of 21, 24 and 28 pills.
However, it is only after the doctor’s consultation that you should administer them. Dr Singhal says that in the West, about 25% of women between 15 and 44 use OCPs as contraception. “The percentage is still quite low in India,” she added.
How To Take OCPs
A few things that you should keep in mind while using OCPs as birth control is:
- Take a pill every day
- Timing of administration must be constant throughout the cycle
- Not to miss even a single tablet
- The first cycle is usually not so safe
Other Uses & Benefits Of OCPs Than Preventing Pregnancies
Relieve Period Pain & Cramps
A severe case of period pain and cramps is called dysmenorrhea. Therefore, Dr Singhal suggests that OCPs are prescribed to young women. Since it prevents ovaries from releasing eggs, it helps with managing pain due to endometriosis, menstruation and fibroids in the uterus. Pills also help women find relief from menses-regulated migraine.
Reduce Premenstrual Symptoms
During the cycle, many women experience premenstrual symptoms including heaviness of breasts, cramps, headache, etc. Oral contraceptive pills help to reduce these symptoms.
Regulate Menstrual Cycles
One of the crucial reasons why a gynaecologist might prescribe OCP to a woman suffering from polycystic ovarian disorder (PCOD) and one of its symptoms is an irregular cycle. Many young girls or women experience irregular periods, pills can help make the correction. A course of three months can help, says Dr Singhal.
Reduce Risks Of Cancers
Dr Singhal says if a person has been taking OCPs for a long time, studies have concluded that they have contributed to reduced risks of certain types of cancers, including endometrial cancer (50% risk reduction), ovarian cancer (27% risk reduction) and cancer of large intestines (18% risk reduction).
This is all because it suppresses the ovaries from releasing eggs which causes hormonal fluctuations in the body. In most cases, the body starts producing a high amount of oestrogen. It is one of the leading causes of the aforementioned cancers.
Side Effects Of OCPs
A few mild effects of OCPs include
- Breakthrough bleeding (spotting in between period cycles)
- Breast pain
- Mood swings
- Increases vaginal discharge
- Reduced libido (sex drive)
Dr Singhal advises smokers and women with cardiovascular diseases not to take OCPs without consultation with a doctor. In most cases, they are not safe and lead to different types of symptoms and diseases.
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Reaction Of The Body If You Stop Taking Pills
Problem In Conceiving
It has been found that many women find it difficult to conceive for the first six months. This is because ovaries take time to recuperate from the suppression of eggs. However, 96% of women who have been on contraceptive pills can conceive within a year. If you cannot, check with your doctor.
Irregular Menstrual Cycle
If you have been taking pills to regulate your menstrual cycle, the irregularity will return after you stop taking them. Along with it, dysmenorrhea, migraines and PMS symptoms will also return to their normal intensity in a few months.
Many women might experience post-pill amenorrhoea. This means they might not get their periods at all for a few months. It can be one of the reasons behind the difficulty in conceiving. However, if it persists for more than three months, you must consult a doctor.
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Acne & Unwanted Hair Will Come Back
If you were prescribed pills to control PCOD, acne and unwanted hair growth, issues will return after you halt taking them. The amount of vaginal discharge will reduce, you will feel more elated and get back your sex drive.
Dr Singhal suggests consulting a doctor before taking pills or in case your abnormal symptoms persist after taking or stopping the OCPs.
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