The pill. You may have heard stories from friends and friend-of-friends on the side effects you can experience when using this oral contraceptive method. The anecdotes of symptoms such as bloating and headaches may have put you off trying it for yourself.
While the side effects do affect a proportion of users, not everyone will experience all of the symptoms. It's also a proven fact that the pill is up to 99 percent effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies. We speak to Dr. Lee Guo Rui, one of the resident general practitioners at DA Clinic Group to get a better perspective of the facts, to help you make a more informed decision about whether you should give the pill a try.
1. What are the common symptoms and side effects I may experience when first starting on the pill?
The most common side effect is spotting - irregular bleeding between periods. Other possible side effects may include nausea, headaches, abdominal cramps, weight gain or breast tenderness. These are temporary symptoms which occur when your body is adjusting to the pill. They will usually go away after some time, once your body gets used to new hormone levels.
2. How bad can the side effects get? Do they go away after time?
Most of the symptoms are mild and will go away after the first few months of regular use of the pill. If they persist after 6 months, the doctor will recommend you to switch to a different pill.
3. Is there anything I can do to lesson or avoid the side effects?
You can reduce spotting by taking the pill at the same time every day, which helps to maintain consistent hormone levels and allows your body to get used to the new hormone levels more quickly.
Taking the pill at night before you sleep can also help to reduce the symptoms of nausea.
4. Are there any positive effects from taking the pill?
The pill can help to regulate your menstrual cycles once your body gets used to it. For those with heavy or irregular period flow and severe menstrual cramps, the pill can help to lighten your flow, shorten its duration, make it more predictable.
Additionally, the pill can reduce the risk of endometrial cancer by 50%, risk of ovarian cancer by 27% and risk of colon cancer by 18%.
The pill can also be used to treat acne and hirsutism, male-patterned hair growth in women.
5. How does the doctor determine which type of oral contraceptives is suitable for me?
There are 2 main types of contraceptive pills. The most commonly prescribed is the combined pill and the progestogen-only mini-pill. The doctor will usually ask you some questions to check if any of the following conditions are present, in which case the pill will not be suitable:
- uncontrolled hypertension
- smokers over age of 35, as there is a significant risk of heart problems and deep vein thrombosis
- past history of deep vein thrombosis or ischemic heart disease
- have experienced migraines with auras
- active or history of breast or endometrial cancer and valvular heart disease
The mini-pill or progesterone-only contraceptive pill can be prescribed to those with the below conditions:
- persons with high risk of heart disease, blood clots, high blood pressure or migraines
- mothers who are breast-feeding
- those who needs a quick return to fertility if you are planning to get pregnant
If you have specific questions about whether the pill is suitable for you, you can speak to a Singapore-registered GP discretely using the Doctor Anywhere App, which allows you to consult a doctor any time on-demand. Download the App here.
About Dr. Lee Guo Rui
Dr. Lee graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2008, with 10 years of experience as a practising doctor. He has rotated across various departments in the major public hospitals in Singapore and was trained under the Radiology residency program for three years before starting his private practice in 2018.