3/4ths of all Canadian women take oral contraceptives (or, “the pill”) at some point in their lives. That’s most of us. That’s our moms, our sisters, our younger cousins… the list goes on. And with a group that big, it’s no surprise that rumours and myths run rampant. As always, we here at WE GO THERE want to make sure you have all the information you need to ease your mind about taking, or not taking the pill.
Myth #1: Staying on the pill for too long can make you infertile
Fact: The pill does not make you infertile. But there is more to it than that.
According to research conducted about the short term effects of getting off the pill, there is no statistically significant risk of infertility after ending the pill. Of the 14,884 women studied, 83.1% were able to become pregnant in the first 12 months. This myth most likely exists because the pill masks any underlying hormonal issues (like PCOS) that may cause infertility or problems falling pregnant. Once you stop taking the pill, these issues are free to show themselves. And since women didn’t know they had the hormonal issue to begin with (because of years of masking while taking the pill), the treatment plan can take longer to figure out. If you’ve come off the pill and are having difficulties conceiving, reach out to your doctor to better understand what’s going on.
Myth #2: There is no difference between the bleeding you experience on the pill or off the pill.
Fact: The bleeding you experience while on the pill is a withdrawal bleed, and is not a period.
The difference between withdrawal bleeds vs naturally occurring periods is not widely known, so it makes sense that this myth is prevalent among pill taking women. There is a lot to breakdown here, but let’s look at the cliff notes version. A naturally occurring, healthy menstrual cycle consists of 3 different stages: follicular (bleeding, preparing to ovulate), ovulatory (egg release, potential impregnation), and luteal (if not pregnant, preparing to bleed). These are all driven by a complex mix of hormones working in harmony to try and create a baby. When you take the pill, you introduce artificial hormones into your body that signal you to stay in the luteal stage; you don’t ovulate, and therefore there is no medical reason to bleed. Which leads into our next myth…
Myth #3: It’s dangerous to continuously take your pill and skip your withdrawal bleed.
Fact: There is no medical difference between taking a break from the pill to bleed and skipping your bleed.
As discussed in myth #2, the pill introduces artificial hormones into your body that keep you in the luteal phase. When you take the sugar pill break, the withdrawal of these hormones causes a bleed. If you don’t take a break from the pill, you simply stay in the luteal phase. Research conducted on this topic has concluded that continuously taking the pill can be a good solution for people who experience unwanted hormone withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, mood-swings, and heavy bleeds. If you want to try skipping your bleed, have a chat with your doctor.
Myth #4: The pill can cause blood clots.
Fact: Unfortunately, this myth is true.
Yes, the pill can cause blood clots. According to The John Hopkins Manual of Gynecology and Obstetrics, a baseline of 4/100,000 women experience thromboembolisms (VTE) per year. For women taking combined oral contraceptives (that’s the most common form of the pill, containing progestogen and estrogen), the risk increases to 10/100,000 a year. While this shows us that taking the pill can increase the risk of blood clots by a factor of two, it’s good to keep in mind that pregnant women experience blood clots at a rate of >100/100,000, and postpartum women experience them at a rate of 550/100,000. Make sure you talk to your doctor about your personal and family medical history so you can better understand your risk of blood clots.
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