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Birth control pills are one of the most effective forms of contraception available today. Like any other decision you make in life, it is important to research any medication you plan to take, especially if it is one you will be taking long term. Important factors to consider when selecting a method of birth control are the ingredients, the potential side effects, and possible contraindications.

Birth control pills are generally taken once daily for a period of seven days, followed by a week in which you will take either nothing at all, or what is known as a “dummy” pill. You can expect to have a normal period of menstruation during this time, and resume taking the pill once this seven-day period has elapsed. This period of bleeding, also known as “breakthrough bleeding” may occur periodically throughout the cycle.

What Is Breakthrough Bleeding?

Breakthrough bleeding may occur for a number of reasons.

For instance, you may experience breakthrough bleeding between periods if you have just started taking the pill. This type of bleeding typically occurs due to a disruption in hormone production and will stop once your body adjusts to the changes. The flow of blood is mild in comparison to a normal period; therefore, you may only need to wear a panty liner rather than a pad or tampon. If bleeding continues for more than three months, this may be an indication that you should try a different type of birth control pill or other method of contraception. You are more likely to experience breakthrough bleeding if you fail to take the pill on a regular basis. Other reasons for breakthrough bleeding may include smoking, older generation birth control pills, or taking a combined number of birth control pills.

Medication use is another possible reason for experiencing breakthrough bleeding that may not be related to the pill itself. Keep in mind that certain types of medications should not be taken in conjunction with the pill. Make sure your doctor knows all of the medications you take on a regular basis, including supplements.

Additionally, certain sexually transmitted diseases are known to cause bleeding between periods. Remember, the pill WILL NOT protect you against sexually transmitted diseases. Bleeding may also be the result of other gynecological illnesses or cancer. If the cause of vaginal bleeding is not directly related to the pill, your doctor may order a Pap smear in order to assess abnormalities of the cervix.
Important to note is that pregnancy CAN occur while on the pill, especially if certain antibiotics are taken in conjunction with your birth control pill. Spotting may occur in pregnancy due to implantation, and the cervix is much more prone to bleeding during this time, so the doctor may test your blood or urine for HCG to confirm or disprove pregnancy.

Can You Reduce Breakthrough Bleeding?

If you just started taking the pill, your breakthrough bleeding will resolve on its own. Your gynecologist may recommend that you try a combined pill that contains a higher dose of the active ingredient, or a different method of contraception altogether.

Try to get yourself on a regular pill-taking schedule. Leave yourself a reminder note by the coffee pot or on your bathroom mirror. Taking the pill at the same time each day will increase its effectiveness. This is one reason some packages of birth control pills come with the dummy pills so that you do not get out of habit during your seven “off” days. If you are not the type who normally takes pills, or you frequently forget to take them, you may want to consider an alternative method of birth control.

Contraindications

It has been reported that birth control pills may increase a woman’s risk of developing a blood clot. Seek immediate emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms, as these may be indicative that a blood clot has formed:
-Severe headaches
-Disturbances in speech and/or vision
-Coughing up blood
-Chest pain
-Numbness and/or weakness in appendages
-Difficulty breathing
-Collapse

Do not take the pill if you are a woman with breast cancer, as certain hormones may negatively affect the cancer. If you are a woman with any pre-existing illness, speak with your doctor before taking an oral contraceptive.

You Should Not Take The Pill If…

You are over the age of 50 or are overweight.
You have a family history of blood clots, especially under the age of 45.
You have superficial thrombophlebitis ( superficial veins in the leg that are red and sore )
You have circulation problems (check with your doctor as this is not an absolute contraindication).
You have a disability that causes difficulty with mobility.
You have had diabetes for more than 20 years.
You have uncontrolled high blood pressure.
You smoke more than a pack a day.
You breastfeed (the pill can reduce your milk supply).
You choose a different type of contraception, such as a condom.
You have migraines, particularly if they include an aura and you are over the age of 35.

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