You know that birth control pills can keep you from getting pregnant. But the pill can have other benefits, too. One survey found that more than half of women who take birth control pills do so for reasons other than avoiding pregnancy.
It can make your periods more regular. With the pill, you'll know when you'll have your period.
With traditional birth control pills, you'll take 3 weeks of hormone-containing active pills, followed by one week of inactive pills. You'll get your period the week you the inactive pills.
With a type called extended-cycle, you take active pills for a longer amount of time. Most often you'll take 3 months of active pills before taking a break. That means you have your period only three or four times a year.
It can make them lighter, too. Heavy menstrual bleeding (called menorrhagia) affects about 10% of reproductive-age women. If it's not treated, it can lead to anemia. The pill lowers your blood loss by thinning the lining of your uterus.
It may make you more comfortable. Birth control pills keep your ovaries from releasing eggs every month. "It essentially tricks your body into thinking you're pregnant," says Michael Thomas, MD, professor and director of reproductive endocrinology and fertility at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Because of that, your uterus makes less of the chemicals that trigger painful cramps. This pain, known as dysmenorrhea, is the most common menstrual problem, affecting up to 90% of reproductive-age women.
It can stop menstrual migraines. 60% of women who get migraines associate the timing of them with their period. "Migraines can be triggered by a drop in estrogen, which occurs during menstruation," Thomas says. Taking extended-cycle birth control pills stops hormonal ups and downs.
It can help your skin. All women make male sex hormones, just in much smaller amounts than men do. Some women, though, make more than others, which can result in acne and excessive hair growth. Among other things, the pill slows the making of male hormones. As a result, many women have fewer breakouts and less unwanted body or facial hair.
It can ease endometriosis. In this condition, tissue normally inside the uterus grows outside of it. It causes painful, heavy periods. Taking birth control pills can help ease the symptoms by thinning out the uterine lining, and, in the case of extended-cycle pills, blocking your period from happening each month.
It can help with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This condition, which is brought on by a hormonal imbalance, causes irregular periods, acne, excess body hair, ovarian cysts, and infertility -- all symptoms that can be helped by birth control pills. "The pill has a number of benefits in patients with PCOS, [who are] making higher-than-normal levels of male hormones and not ovulating regularly," Thomas says. The pill lowers testosterone levels and controls when you menstruate.
It lowers your risk of some cancers. "Women that have taken the pill for 5 years or longer have a 50% reduction in the risk of developing ovarian cancer, and that benefit continues even after stopping the pill," says Ginger Gardner, MD, gynecologic cancer surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. "We're talking about a cancer for which there's not a good screening tool, and a cancer that's frequently diagnosed in an advanced stage, so to have this kind of risk reduction is important."
A recent analysis of 36 studies found that for every 5 years that a woman takes birth control pills, her risk of endometrial cancer decreases by nearly a quarter. The benefit continued even more than 30 years after the women stopped taking the pill.