What are the Possible Side Effects of Hormonal Birth Control Methods?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 December 2019
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Birth control methods using hormones come in three common forms, pill, patch and ring. There are side effects of hormonal birth control methods that apply to all of these forms, and some that are unique to each form. Side effects of hormonal birth control methods can depend much on the level of hormones taken, which varies with the many different pills and methods available, and also may be more significant for people in certain risk groups. Another group of hormonal birth control contains only one hormone and has slightly different side effects and risks/benefits.

Any birth control methods that use a combination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone have the following side effects in common:

  • Spotting
  • Light Periods
  • Vaginitis
  • Breast Tenderness
  • Weight Gain
  • Bloating/ Water Retention
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Reduction in Libido
  • Moodiness
  • Risk of blood clots, stroke, tumors, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, and migraines

Blood clots, stroke, tumors, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, and migraines are very serious but rare side effects. Risk of stroke is especially common when women are over 35 and smoke, or have preexisting high blood pressure or diabetes. In fact, in most cases, doctors won’t prescribe hormonal birth control methods to women who fit in these categories because of the increased risk of life-threatening side effects.


Another consideration in possible side effects of hormonal birth control methods is a potential increased risk for breast cancer. Until recently, women often took estrogen after menopause to reduce the associated symptoms. This has now been found to be potentially unsafe, raising the risk of breast cancer. It is not yet known if birth control pills that contain estrogen may also increase risk, though it is known that one of the benefits of birth control pills is a slightly decreased risk of ovarian cancers. This matter should be weighed when considering the side effects of hormonal birth control methods.

With each type of hormone birth control, there are some additional risks. Actually, these mostly apply to the newer patch and cervical ring. Women who use the cervical ring method may experience vaginal irritation at a higher level. The patch may result in skin irritation. These are rare, and in general, both these methods are more effective than taking “the pill” with less chance of unplanned pregnancy since you can’t “miss” pills.

Some birth control methods use only one hormone, progesterone, or in chemical form, progestin. These may be called the mini-pill or the Depo-Provera® shot. The side effects of hormonal birth control methods that only use progestin are slightly less than combination forms. Yet there is a greater chance of getting pregnant with the mini-pill if you fail to take the pill within 27 hours of your last dose. Further, you still run the risk of blood clots, strokes and bad migraines, especially if you are in a high-risk group.

The mini-pill appears most effective for two groups of women: nursing mothers and those who get severe nausea from combination hormone pills. It should be noted an additional risk occurs with Depo-Provera® shots. When taken for a year or more they can cause bone loss and accelerate osteoporosis. Most use Depo-Provera®, a shot that lasts for 12 weeks, as a one time method.



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