Weight gain, nausea, breast tenderness, and menstrual cycle changes are all well-known side effects of oral contraceptives, but other side effects aren’t as universally familiar. Similarly, some side effects are just bothersome and go away over time, while others can be signs of serious or life-threatening health conditions.
To help you separate the simply annoying from the more severe, we spoke to a handful of women’s health experts who told us what signs to look for, and how to respond to six unexpected side effects of the pill.
1. Yeast Infections
Women on the pill who have poorly-controlled diabetes, a diet high in sugar or alcohol, or a weakened immune system may experience more yeast infections, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Mount Kisco, New York. Treatment with an over-the-counter vaginal antifungal cream or a prescription medication typically cures a yeast infection. But if the problem is chronic, says Dr. Dweck, it may help to switch birth control methods.
2. Vision Problems
Hormone changes from taking the pill can cause dry-eye symptoms that affect vision, says Beth Kneib, OD, director of the clinical resources group at the American Optometric Association. See your eye doctor right away if you have dry eyes accompanied by discharge or a change in vision, which can be more serious, she says. “Some eye infections mimic dry-eye symptoms and can lead to a larger problem,” she explains. If you have no other symptoms, try over-the-counter saline eye drops for relief.
Related: 7 Healthy Reasons to Have Sex
3. Blood Clots
Blood clots are a rare but potentially serious side effect of oral contraceptives. Each year, a small number of women who take oral contraceptives (3 to 10 out of every 10,000) develops blood clots, notes the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Women who smoke, are overweight, are over 35, or have recently given birth are considered at higher risk.
Blood clot signs to watch for:
- Breathing problems or chest pain could signal a clot in the heart or lungs.
- Pain, warmth, and swelling in the leg could indicate clotting in the lower leg, called deep vein thrombosis.
If you experience symptoms of a possible blood clot, seek immediate medical attention, says Kyoko Peña-Robles, MD, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology with One Medical Group in San Francisco.
4. Migraine Headaches
Some women who already experience migraines may notice that their headaches get worse when they’re on the pill, Dr. Peña-Robles says. A 2014 study in Current Opinion in Neurology found that a drop in estrogen levels can trigger migraines. Peña-Robles says this can happen just before your period and later in your menstrual cycle. Consider talking with your doctor about switching to a pill with fewer placebo days or a lower dose of estrogen to ease the hormonal fluctuations that can contribute to migraines, she suggests.
Women with a personal or family history of mood disorders may be more likely to experience depression while taking the pill, because the pill’s synthetic hormones can affect the balance of certain neurotransmitters, says Peña-Robles. But that depression can develop due to many factors, so it’s important to try to determine the cause. If you experience depression related to the pill, your doctor may recommend a non-hormonal birth control option, or one that delivers a lower level of hormones.
Related: Best and Worst Birth Control Options
6. Painful Intercourse
Low-dose birth control pills may be linked to chronic pelvic pain and uncomfortable intercourse, according to Peña-Robles. “This may be due to the dip in estrogen, which can lead to sexual side effects such as low libido, decreased lubrication, and painful intimacy,” she says. Report pelvic pain to your doctor right away in order to rule out conditions like endometriosis and fibroids. If you experience painful intercourse, talk with your doctor about other birth control options.
This article originally appeared on EverydayHealth.com: 6 Strange Side Effects of the Pill
By Mikel Theobald, Everyday Health Contributor
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