Hormonal contraceptives, including the birth control pill, are the second most popular form of contraception for women between the ages of 15 and 49. An estimated 64.9 percent of women in this age range are currently using contraception, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and of these women, 12.6 percent are using oral contraceptive pills, which is second only to female sterilization in popularity. Birth control pills are a popular option not only for preventing contraception, but also for helping to regulate irregular or painful periods, treat hormonal acne, and prevent ovarian cysts. However, hormonal contraceptives often cause a number of unpleasant side effects that can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Birth control pills like Loestrin Fe 1/20 are a common choice for women of child-bearing age, but what are the side effects of the medication and how can they be prevented?
What is Loestrin Fe 1/20?
Loestrin Fe 1/20 is a combination hormone medication that is comprised of norethindrone, a type of progestin, and ethinyl estradiol, a type of estrogen. Loestrin Fe 1/20 is primarily used as an oral contraceptive, or birth control pill, but it can also help regulate irregular menstrual periods, decrease blood loss and reduce pain associated with periods, lower the risk of ovarian cysts, and treat hormonal acne in women who are menstruating. The medication is sold under a number of different brand names, as well as under the generic name norethindrone - E. Estradiol-Iron. Loestrin Fe 1/20 can only be obtained with a prescription.
How does Loestrin Fe 1/20 work?
Loestrin Fe 1/20 works to prevent pregnancy in three main ways. First, the hormones in the medication prevent eggs from fully developing and being released during ovulation. Second, the hormones cause the mucus around the cervix to thicken, which prevents sperm from passing through into the uterus. Finally, the hormones thin the uterine lining, making implantation of a fertilized egg less likely. The medication is not effective as emergency birth control and should not be taken by women who are currently pregnant. It also is not appropriate for girls who have not started menstruating.
What are the side effects of Loestrin Fe 1/20?
Like many hormonal oral contraceptives, Loestrin Fe 1/20 is associated with both common and serious side effects. Common side effects associated with Loestrin Fe 1/20 usually do not require medical attention and may decrease in intensity or disappear after a patient’s body adjusts to the medication. Common side effects associated with Loestrin Fe 1/20 include:
- Breast enlargement or tenderness
- Feeling sad or empty
- Itching of the vagina or genitals
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Thick, white, curd-like vaginal discharge with little to no odor
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble wearing contact lenses
- Blotchy spots on the skin
- Loss of interest or pleasure
- Stomach cramps
- Trouble sleeping
Other side effects that may occur while taking Loestrin Fe 1/20 can be serious and require immediate medical attention. Talk to your healthcare professional if you experience any of the following side effects while taking Loestrin Fe 1/20:
- Absent, irregular, or missed menstrual periods
- Change in vision
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Clay-colored stools
- Hives or welts
- Hive-like swelling of the face, tongue, throat, legs, feet, hands, or genitals
- Irregular vaginal bleeding that is medium to heavy and occurs between regular menstrual periods
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, or jaw
- Pain in the chest, legs, or groin
- Severe headaches that come on suddenly
- Stomach pain
- Unusual tiredness or weakness
- Vomiting blood
- Changes in skin color
- Dark urine
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fast heartbeat
- Itching skin
- Loss of appetite
- Pain, tenderness, or swelling of the foot or leg
- Pounding in the ears
- Redness of the skin
- Slow or fast heartbeat
- Sudden slurred speech or loss of coordination
- Trouble breathing
Can the side effects of Loestrin Fe 1/20 be prevented or avoided?
Preventing unwanted pregnancy is important, but some women find that the side effects of taking oral contraceptives outweigh the benefits of taking the medication. Fortunately, side effects from hormonal forms of birth control aren’t a foregone conclusion. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hormonal contraceptives such as Loestrin Fe 1/20 can cause nutritional deficiencies of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E, folic acid, magnesium, selenium, and zinc in women who are using them. It is believed that these nutritional deficiencies are the cause of many of the side effects of medications like Loestrin Fe 1/20, including feelings of depression. Although researchers have yet to conclusively establish a link between hormonal contraceptives and depression, depression is the most common reason why women stop taking hormonal birth control. When examining the nutritional impact of birth control, it’s not surprising that feelings of depression are common, as lower levels of vitamin B6 have been linked to depression in women taking oral contraceptives. Additionally, having low folate levels reduces the likelihood that a depressed individual will respond to treatment with antidepressants when compared to people with high folate levels. Other common side effects of oral contraception, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and low libido may also be caused by nutritional deficiencies resulting from the hormones contained in the medication.
Because of the way birth control impacts biochemistry, the shift in nutrient levels is believed to contribute to the incidence of side effects in many women. With many of the side effects of hormonal forms of birth control caused by nutritional deficiencies, it may be possible to prevent, diminish, or avoid side effects of the medication through the use of a dietary supplement that is formulated to correct the nutritional deficiencies that can result from long term use of hormonal contraception. Addressing the nutritional deficiencies can help reduce the number of side effects experienced as well as their intensity, particularly when it comes to troublesome issues like low libido, weight gain, depression, mood swings, and headaches.
Are there any risks associated with Loestrin Fe 1/20?
As is the case with many types of hormonal contraceptives, Loestrin Fe 1/20 is associated with the risk of serious cardiovascular events in women who smoke while using these contraceptives. Cardiovascular events that may occur include stroke, heart attack, blood clots, and high blood pressure. The risk of experiencing cardiovascular issues increases with the age of the woman and the number of cigarettes that are smoked. Women ages 35 and older are considered to be at especially high risk, and it is strongly advised not to smoke at all while using Loestrin Fe 1/20.
Women with a history of blood clots or blood clotting disorders should speak to their healthcare provider about their medical history before using a hormonal contraceptive like Loestrin Fe 1/20, as hormone treatments can increase the risk of experiencing dangerous blood clots. Women who have diabetes may have their blood sugar affected by Loestrin Fe 1/20, so they should check their blood sugar regularly and talk to their doctor about their results. Women should be sure to give their doctor a complete medical history and a comprehensive list of all prescription medications, over the counter medications, vitamins, supplements, and herbs that they are taking in order to prevent any potential drug interactions.