What else is there to the 'many benefits' of The Pill?

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Currently there are all kinds of contraceptive methods in the market. The most popular ones are those that give the users the assurance of pregnancy prevention. Some of these methods are: the IUCD, the Progestogen coil, the mini pill, the ring, the patch, male and female sterilization, and the combined pill, among others [1]. Each of these methods differs in its implications as well as in its benefits. When considering the best contraceptive method, one of the things that any woman considers is how long she wants the method to last. Women who have not yet had a child discard the sterilization method for example, and opt for the hormonal methods like the one that is most commonly used, “the pill”. The Oral Contraceptive Pill provides a number of benefits as it also ensures pregnancy prevention with only 1-3% of failure rate [1]. However, the numbers of studies that show negative consequences of its use as well as anecdotes from the pill users raise questions about the repercussions that this method might have and that are not being further studied or publicized.                

 In this essay I only write about the combined pill and not about the oral contraceptive pills (which would include the mini pill - or the progestin-only pill). The combined pill is made of hormones and it contains estrogen and progestin. The way that the combined pill ideally works is by preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs and by thickening the cervical mucus in order to prevent sperm from joining any released egg [2].                

Besides ensuring pregnancy protection during its use, the pill provides many different benefits. Some of these benefits include protection against ovarian cancer, acne, cancer of the uterus, ovarian cysts, noncancerous breast growth, osteoporosis, and premenstrual symptoms. The pill also reduces endometriosis and menorrhagia (heavy bleeding). In addition to all of these advantages, the pill ensures fertilization shortly after its use and even reduces the menstrual periods while using it [2 & 3].                

All of these appealing advantages make this contraceptive appear almost magical not only for its advantages during its use but also for those after it. It has been advertised that eight years of combination pill use reduces the risks of endometrial cancer up to eighty per cent, and ten years of its use reduces the risk of ovarian cancer also up to eighty per cent [2].

However, not all about this method is great; these kind of ‘magical’ benefits make any one wonder of the real costs of them. Although side effects such as blood clots, upper respiratory infections, breast pain, stroke, and heart attack are mentioned in its advertisement, some argue that most women do not really give much thought to these side effects and rely on the pill’s well documented momentary relieves [4]. Neither do they think of the real effect that any minimum percentage of side effect causes can really mean. Even though all of the pills advertisements emphasize the minimum likeness of these side effects to happen, studies say that as many as 40% of these women will have some type of side effect [5]. Considering the fact that over 150 million women world-wide have used this pill [5], that is a very significant number of women getting some type of side effect, especially if they get one as serious as stroke to name one.    

Many argue that another important issue that most women who wish to conceive in the future do not give much thought to is the effects that the pill will have in their fertility as the pill ensures fertility soon after using it. An alarming number of women go through many problems when they try to conceive after being on the pill. Dr. Lily Hua Yu says, “I see at least five women every week with fertility problems who have a history of taking the contraceptive pill”, in a newspaper article [5]. Another woman interviewed for the same article says, “I tried to stay calm, but after six months I began to worry. I dreaded seeing friends as they would casually ask when I might be starting a family - they didn't know that I was crying myself to sleep with fear that I might be infertile”. Women who have had problems in becoming pregnant after using the pill say that they would have stopped using it if they would have known what they would go through after using it [5].

Another long term side effect of the pill is miscarriage, which is another type of pregnancy loss. Miscarriage happens during the first twenty weeks of pregnancy, and it is also known as a spontaneous abortion. Many women who have had a miscarriage have expressed their belief that their prior use of the pill had an effect on their loss, this belief is also shared by their doctor [6].

To understand any of the side effects that affect fertility we must consider the ways in which the pill works. Dr Marilyn Glenville, explains, "The Pill artificially suppresses your hormones, effectively making your ovaries dormant. Sometimes it can make the reproductive system go into hibernation” [4]. A result of this hormone suppression is amenorrhea, which is a lack of ovulation. As prior mentioned this is one of the ways in which the pill works, by preventing the releasing of eggs from the ovaries. A distress of this can result in amenorrhea that lasts longer than what was intended. Thus many women can wait as long as three years before they become pregnant, some even wait much longer [4, 7, & 8].

In addition to the long periods in which the ovaries remain ‘inactive’ or without the production of eggs, the fertility periods of the women also decrease. Some women wait as long as 12 years to stop using the pill and become pregnant, as the ovaries remain inactive for long periods of time, the longer they stay inactive, the more time that the reproductive period of the women passes and thus the less chances of becoming pregnant she has when she decides to have a baby [4].Even though combined pill is very popular and is even considered the best choice for women seeking a relying and easy-to-use contraceptive method, they should not discard or minimize the side effects that might come with it because no woman really knows what the consequences of its use will be.  After all, every drug has a side effect and the pill is not an exception.  

REFERENCES
[1] http://www.ivillage.co.uk/health/whealth/birthcontrol/articles/0,,549123_599845,00.html – How to choose the right contraception.
[2] http://www.plannedparenthood.org/birth-control-pregnancy/birth-control/the-pill.htm - The Pill[3] http://adam.about.com/reports/000091_1.htm - Female Contraception, A.D.A.M. Health Center [4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/main.jhtml?xml=/health/2007/08/13/hpill113.xml - Pill can delay a baby for longer than you want
[5] http://www.unm.edu/~shc1/pill-side-effects.html - The Pill: Side Effects & Current Issues, The University of New Mexico Student Health Center.
[6] http://www.medhelp.org/forums/Maternal/messages/32847.html - Birth Control Pill during 3 months waiting after miscarriage.
[7] http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com/2006/07/pill-and-future-fertility.html - The Pill and Future Fertility
[8] http://fertilitytesting.co.uk/ - Fertility Testing

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