Approximately 25 percent of women who currently use birth control are taking birth control pills, and while this form of hormonal contraception is highly effective at preventing pregnancy, it can also cause unpleasant side effects. Some women experience feelings of nausea when taking birth control, but does birth control actually make people sick? The research suggests that nausea is a common side effect of birth control, but it may be possible to prevent or mitigate nausea and other side effects.
What are the different types of birth control?
There are many different types of birth control, the majority of which are marketed towards women. Birth control options include both hormonal and non-hormonal forms, including implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other types of birth control that impact the body. Non-hormonal forms of birth control should be used every time a couple has intercourse, including:
- Internal condoms
- Breastfeeding as birth control
- Outercourse and abstinence
- Fertility awareness
- Withdrawal/pull out method
- Birth control sponges
- Cervical caps
There are two types of permanent birth control, both of which involve a surgical procedure: tubal ligation and vasectomy. Hormonal forms of birth control include:
- Birth control implants
- Birth control shot
- Birth control vaginal ring
- Hormonal IUDs
- Birth control patch
- Birth control pill
Not all forms of IUDs are hormonal; copper IUDs are another long term form of birth control. Most side effects of birth control are associated with hormonal forms of contraception.
Why do women use hormonal birth control?
There are many different reasons why women use hormonal forms of birth control, many of which are not related to contraception. Although many women do use hormonal forms of birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies, others may use birth control to lessen menstrual flow for lighter periods, reduce the severity of menstrual cramps, and reduce the risk of experiencing ectopic pregnancy. Hormonal methods of birth control can also help reduce or eliminate the following:
- Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS
- Loss of bone density
- Cysts in the ovaries or breasts
- Serious infections of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus
- Endometrial and ovarian cancers
- Iron deficiency
What are some common side effects of hormonal birth control?
Although each type of hormonal birth control has specific side effects that are attributed only to the specific medication, some side effects are common across nearly all types of birth control. The majority of side effects associated with hormonal birth control are not serious and do not require medical attention. These common side effects include:
- Spotting, or small amounts of blood between menstrual periods
- Mood changes
- Sore, tender, or swollen breasts
- Lighter periods
- Headaches that are generally mild
Other side effects associated with hormonal birth control are less common but can be the sign of a serious medical issue. Contact your doctor or seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following side effects, as they can be a sign of serious issues like liver disease, stroke, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, blood clots, or heart disease. Signs of potentially serious side effects include:
- Abdominal pain
- Severe headaches
- Swelling, aching, or pain in the legs or thighs
- Chest pain
- Eye problems or blurred vision
Is birth control making me sick?
If you’re wondering if your birth control might be the reason you’ve been feeling sick lately, you’re definitely not alone. Nausea is one of the most common side effects of hormonal birth control, particularly birth control pills. Combination birth control pills, or those containing both estrogen and progesterone, are more likely to cause nausea. Estrogen is the primary cause of nausea in birth control pills, as it can irritate the lining of the stomach. Pills or hormonal forms of birth control with higher dosages of estrogen are more likely to cause nausea. Progesterone can also cause nausea. It’s believed that the hormones contribute to nausea by causing the muscles of the stomach to relax, which impacts the way that the stomach empties. Emergency contraception pills typically include high doses of progesterone and frequently cause nausea. However, birth control pills that contain only low doses of progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, usually do not cause nausea. While it is possible in some cases, nausea is generally a rare side effect of progestin-only pills.
If your birth control is causing nausea, the good news is that it will generally disappear or diminish over time. Most people experience nausea as a side effect when they first start using birth control or start using a new form of hormonal birth control, and the symptoms often dissipate after a few days after your body becomes accustomed to the medication. In some people, feelings of nausea may last longer. In most cases, nausea caused by birth control can be treated by home remedies or prevented with a few simple tips.
How can nausea caused by birth control be treated or prevented?
Nausea called by hormonal birth control is a common issue that many women experience. Fortunately, most women are able to treat their nausea at home or prevent it entirely. Home remedies for birth control-induced nausea include:
- Consume light, bland foods that are easily digested, such as bread, rice, and crackers
- Drink cold liquids
- Drink ginger tea, which can help soothe the stomach
- Take deep, controlled breaths
- Avoid foods with strong flavors, lots of oil, or excessive sweetness
- Rest after eating and avoid activity after meals
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals
Some women, particularly those who are especially prone to nausea, choose to take anti-nausea medications during the first few days of starting birth control in order to prevent symptoms. It’s also recommended that women drink plenty of water and take their birth control on a full stomach if taking birth control pills. Avoiding spicy or acidic foods, as well as taking birth control pills before bed or after a snack, can also help reduce the risk of nausea.
Can other side effects of hormonal birth control be prevented or avoided?
While nausea is commonly caused by the impacts of hormones on the muscles of the stomach, other side effects of hormonal birth control appear to be hormonally linked. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized that hormonal contraceptives such as birth control pills may cause nutritional deficiencies of vitamins and minerals such as selenium, zinc, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E. Low levels of vitamin B6 have been linked to depression, while low folate levels may cause treatment with antidepressants to be less effective compared to people with high folate levels who are treated with the medication. Other common side effects of hormonal contraceptives, such as low libido, weight gain, headaches, fatigue, depression, and difficulty sleeping may also be caused by nutritional deficiencies resulting from the hormones contained in the medication.
Because many of the side effects of hormonal contraceptives are caused by nutritional deficiencies, it may be possible to prevent some side effects by addressing these deficiencies. Specially formulated dietary supplements can offer nutritional support while supporting hormone balance, which can help to mitigate side effects. When nutritional deficiencies are addressed, it may be possible to reduce the frequency and severity of certain side effects, including weight gain, depression, low libido, mood swings, and headaches. With adequate nutritional support, some women may be able to avoid side effects from birth control entirely.