The Pill and Painful Periods – what we’re not told

Painful periods are the worst. Just awful. Many people are told by their doctors to go on the pill to “fix” their painful period and although this can give temporary relief, I wanted to give you the full picture so you can make a truly informed choice. 

Whenever I chat about hormonal contraceptives I always start by acknowledging their benefits – they are a highly effective way of stopping us get pregnant and they do often create shorter and lighter periods.

I’ll start by explaining why the pill does often, seemingly, helps painful periods. Most hormonal contraceptives stop ovulation which means that your uterus lining never fully thickens. So when you do bleed there is only a thin uterus lining for your body to release which leads to shorter and lighter bleeding, for most (but not all) people. 

When your period is bringing you monthly hell, having lighter and easier periods can be a much needed relief. However, it only masks what is the underlying cause of your painful periods So if you do decide to take the pill to give you a break from your painful periods, it’s important to still explore what was the root cause of that pain. 

Turning now to the side-effects of hormonal contraceptives. 

As I mentioned, most contraceptives stop you ovulating. As the hormones your ovaries produce affect every part of your body, there are side effects to not ovulating. Sadly when our doctors suggest hormonal contraceptives they rarely give us the full lowdown on this. 

However, the patient information leaflet of the contraceptive your doctor suggests (you can find it inside the packet or you can search online for it) is really eye opening and mostly lists these side effects: 

  • Deep-vein thrombosis and stroke https://www.cochrane.org/CD011054/FERTILREG_risk-heart-attack-and-stroke-women-using-birth-control-pills
  • Lower libido and dramatically decreased testosterone levels https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060104232338.htm and PMID: 33878812
  • Shrink the clitoris and surrounding vulvar tissues (especially the vaginal opening) which increases the risk of painful sex (PMID: 24299553)
  • Depression and anxiety (PMID: 34254301)
  • Weight gain (PMID: 19346753)
  • Alters your choice of intimate partner by changing the way you perceive their “scent” (PMID: 19818527)
  • Affects gut lining permeability and microbiome (PMID: 18684177)
  • Nutrient deficiencies (PMID: 7001015)
  • Long term use associated with higher rates of cervical breast and liver cancer, although reduced rates of ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancer (PMID: 12686037, PMID: 15105794)

Quite a list, hey? Being aware of the side effects will hopefully make it easier to have a fully informed decision about hormonal contraceptives. You can also explore the many non-hormonal contraceptives that are available.

Copyright  2022 @ Tara Ghosh