The Good And Bad Of Being On The Pill

Women who have been on the pill for a long time probably experience regular periods that are controlled by the pill. While this isn’t necessarily bad and can even be a benefit for many women, women who have underlying conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may go undiagnosed. This is because birth control can mask some uncomfortable symptoms of the condition.

First of all: what is PCOS?

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause unpredictable periods, acne, unwanted hair growth, and lead to infertility. While the condition can be frustrating, many women are able to find treatment options that reduce symptoms. Additionally, many women with PCOS are still able to get pregnant. Those with PCOS typically have higher levels of androgens and lower levels of progesterone.

Birth control and irregular bleeding

Some birth control options, especially the pill, work to control a woman’s menstrual cycle. Birth control pills contain hormones to stop ovulation and prevent pregnancy. The pill can also reduce acne and make periods regular. While this is a benefit for many women, women with undiagnosed PCOS may not experience typical PCOS symptoms such as irregular bleeding because the birth control is controlling the menstrual cycle.

I thought birth control could treat PCOS?

Birth control pills are often prescribed as a treatment for PCOS. However, some combination pills can cause weight gain, which can worsen symptoms. Some pills also increase risk for diabetes, which is already a concern for women with PCOS.

Some women may be better off taking progestin-only birth control pills. These options tend to have a lower chance of causing side effects. This may be a better option for women who have diabetes or are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

What about other forms of birth control?

Of course, the pill isn’t the only birth control option on the market. Injections, patches, implants, and IUDs are all also effective for preventing pregnancy. Many of these options, however, can cause abnormal bleeding. For women with undiagnosed PCOS, there is no way to know whether irregular periods are a side effect of the birth control or a symptom of an underlying condition.

When to see a doctor

While the most common symptom of PCOS is irregular bleeding, women may also experience acne, weight gain, unwanted hair growth, pelvic pain, or depression and mood swings. Any of these symptoms are an indication that the time may have come to talk with a doctor. PCOS treatment can lead to a higher quality of life for many women. An OB/GYN can advise on the best treatment options on an individual basis.