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Birth Control Health Center

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How Safe Is Your Birth Control?

By Marisa Cohen
WebMD Feature

You use birth control to keep yourself from getting pregnant. But you may wonder how safe your form of protection is for your body.

All methods of contraception are considered okay for healthy women. They're even safer than going through pregnancy and childbirth, says Colleen Krajewski, MD, an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I have had patients say they heard something on the Internet or TV about how unsafe birth control is, so they were uncomfortable using it -- and they wind up with an unplanned pregnancy, which is far riskier for your health,” she says.

Still, all forms of birth control have risks tied to them.

Estrogen-Containing Birth Control (Pill, Patch, and Ring)

Three kinds of birth control use estrogen: the combination pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring.

There's a slightly increased risk in blood clots with the methods containing estrogen, particularly from pills that contain drospirenone (these include the brands Syeda, Yasmin, and Yaz, among others).

“A woman’s general risk of blood clots is around 1 in 10,000; while on estrogen-containing birth control it rises to about 3 in 10,000-so while it does triple, it is still extremely low,” Krajewski says.

Because of the higher risk for blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks, estrogen-containing birth control is not recommended if you have other risk factors, including:

One other concern many women have about estrogen-containing birth control is whether it raises the risk of breast cancer. A study published in 2010 that followed more than 100,000 women found there was a very slight increase in risk for women on the triphasic type of pills -- the dose of estrogen in those changes in three phases over the month. But a later study that looked at women on 38 different formulations of birth control pills found no rise in risk with any of them.

One thing we do know for sure about birth control pills is that they lower your chances of getting ovarian and uterine cancer.

Some versions of the pill contain only progestin, which may be a better choice for some women. But you need to take them within the same 3-hour window each day for them to be effective.

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