Daily Health

Birth Control Side Effects You Should Know

Over the years, birth control has changed considerably. As it became more widely available, safer and more effective options have gone on the market. But of course, with more options, it can be difficult to determine which birth control method is right for you.

A big part of that decision is possible side effects. Whether you're looking for birth control or are curious about side effects, read on to learn more.

If you are currently taking birth control and are experiencing side effects, speak to your healthcare practitioner right away.

What is birth control?

Birth control refers to methods used to significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy in sexually active people. It’s a bit of a catch-all term and in modern uses, it can also refer to methods used to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Modern methods of birth control supersede risky forms of birth control like the “pull-out” or rhythm methods. Neither of these methods protects against STIs and are fairly ineffective against the risk of pregnancy.

Having said that, it’s important to note that there is no one form of birth control that is 100% effective against pregnancy and/or all STIs. However, with proper use, including a back-up method, such as birth control pills combined with condoms, you can feel safe knowing that your chances of pregnancy and STI transmission are low. 

Again, when it comes to STIs, there is no one form of birth control that protects against all kinds of STIs. That’s why communication between you and your partner(s) before engaging in sexual activity is important. Plus you need to make sure that you feel comfortable with the course of birth control you choose. 

If you have any concerns about the possibility of pregnancy or STIs or are worried about having that conversation with your partner(s), it’s always best to talk to your doctor. 

Hormone-based birth control

This method of birth control uses hormones to prevent ovulation. People who are aged 35+ and who smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day can’t use estrogen-based birth control due to the increased risk of blood clots. 

People who have a history of blood clots, migraines with aura, high blood pressure, heart disease, breast or liver cancer, liver disease, or a long history of diabetes can’t use estrogen-based birth control. 

If you are concerned about any hormone-based birth control or have questions about which birth control method is right for you, talk to a Felix healthcare practitioner

Birth control pill

The birth control pill is a form of oral contraceptive that helps reduce the risk of pregnancy by stopping ovulation. It’s important to note that not all people who take birth control pills are sexually active. It can also help address PMS, heavy and/or painful periods, or for endometriosis management. 

Side effects of birth control pills include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Bloating when first starting the pill
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Skin changes (usually oilier)

Mild side effects are usually nothing to be concerned about. However, if they persist or if you are unable to manage them, speak with your doctor. There are a few different types of birth control pills available, and it might be helpful to try a different one. 

There are rare and more serious side effects of taking birth control pills that warrant addressing with your doctor right away. These include:

  • Brown and blotchy spots on exposed skin
  • Severe headaches
  • Breast lump(s)
  • Significant changes in bleeding patterns (volume, spotting, etc.)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Signs of depression
  • Signs of liver problems (yellow tinge in the eyes and/or skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, dark urine, pale stools)
  • Pain, swelling, and/or tenderness in the upper abdominal area
  • Varicose veins
  • Vaginal infection
  • Symptoms of a urinary tract infection

Serious side effects that warrant immediate medical attention include:

  • Signs of a blood clot (e.g., sudden change in vision or vision loss, pain in the chest, groin, or leg, swelling in the calf of the leg, sudden and unexplained shortness of breath)
  • Signs of a heart attack (e.g., chest pain or pressure, pain extending your shoulder and/or arm, nausea, sweating, vomiting)
  • Signs of serious allergic reactions, including difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting, swelling of the face and throat, abdominal cramps
  • Signs of a stroke, including headache, loss of coordination, weakness, numbness, slurred speech, or unexplained pain in the arm or leg

If you are experiencing any of the above serious side effects, seek immediate medical attention. Before taking this medication or if the mild side effects are intolerable or worsen, make sure you talk to your doctor.

There are two general types of birth control pills: combination pills and progestin-only birth control pills. Your healthcare practitioner can help you decide which birth control pill is right for you. 

Intrauterine device (IUD)

There are two types of IUD: progestin-containing and non-hormonal.  IUDs are small T-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus via the cervix. Insertion and removal should only be performed by a licensed medical practitioner.

The IUD prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg and the type of IUD you choose depends on what you and your doctor determine is the best for you. 

As with the birth control pill, the IUD does not protect against STIs, and you should use a barrier backup method for STI protection. 

Side effects of the IUD include:

  • Ovarian cysts (these usually go away on their own)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Bloating when first inserted
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Skin changes (usually oilier)

Serious side effects that warrant immediate medical attention include:

  • Severe pain in your belly or pelvis
  • Severe vaginal bleeding
  • Bad smelling vaginal discharge
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Signs of pregnancy

Contraceptive rings and patches

Contraceptive rings and patches work similarly to oral contraceptives. The patch is applied to the skin and delivers hormones that prevent pregnancy. The contraceptive ring is a small silicone device that is inserted into the vagina for three weeks, then removed for one week so you can have your period. 

Felix offers both the contraceptive ring, called Nuvaring, and birth control patches. Keep in mind that the contraceptive ring and birth control patches don’t guard against STIs and a barrier backup method is advised. 

For individuals who weigh more than 200 lbs, the contraceptive ring and birth control patches are less effective. Talk to your doctor to find the best contraception for you.

Side effects for contraceptive rings and patches are similar to those as with the birth control pill or other hormonal contraceptives, however, some side effects have a higher risk due to higher amounts of hormones, such as blood clots. 

Mild side effects that usually resolve on their own include:

  • Ovarian cysts (these usually go away on their own)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Bloating when first starting
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Skin changes (usually oilier)

Rare and more serious side effects that warrant addressing with your doctor right away include:

  • Brown and blotchy spots on exposed skin
  • Severe headaches
  • Breast lump(s)
  • Significant changes in bleeding patterns (volume, spotting, etc.)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Signs of depression
  • Signs of liver problems (yellow tinge in the eyes and/or skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, dark urine, pale stools)
  • Pain, swelling, and/or tenderness in the upper abdominal area
  • Varicose veins
  • Vaginal infection
  • Symptoms of a urinary tract infection

Serious side effects that warrant immediate medical attention include:

  • Signs of a blood clot (e.g., sudden change in vision or vision loss, pain in the chest, groin, or leg, swelling in the calf of the leg, sudden and unexplained shortness of breath)
  • Signs of a heart attack (e.g., chest pain or pressure, pain extending your shoulder and/or arm, nausea, sweating, vomiting)
  • Signs of serious allergic reactions, including difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting, swelling of the face and throat, abdominal cramps
  • Signs of a stroke, including headache, loss of coordination, weakness, numbness, slurred speech, or unexplained pain in the arm or leg

If you are experiencing any of the above serious side effects, seek immediate medical attention. Before taking this medication or if the mild side effects are intolerable or worsen, make sure you talk to your doctor.

Barrier birth control

Barrier birth control is non-hormonal birth control that creates a barrier so sperm can’t enter the uterus. Not all barrier birth control is recommended and barrier birth control doesn’t guard against all forms of STIs. 

Male and female condoms

Male condoms are widely used and often free at most clinics. If used properly, they are highly effective against both pregnancy and the risk of STI transmission. However, they aren’t effective against external STIs such as genital herpes

Female condoms are less common but work much the same as male condoms. A female condom is inserted into the vagina up to eight hours before intercourse, and is made of a soft and loose-fitting nitrile polymer sheath with two flexible rings at either end. 

There are both latex and non-latex condoms as some folks are allergic to latex. 

Technically, condoms have no side effects as they don’t contain any active ingredients. However, using a latex condom can trigger a latex allergy. Mild symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Runny nose
  • Irritation where the skin has come in contact with the latex

In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction can occur, warranting immediate medical assistance. These include:

  • Tightening of airways and/or difficulty breathing
  • Loss of blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid or weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

If you or your partner experience any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Cervical cap

The cervical cap is a silicone cap that is inserted into the vagina up to two hours before intercourse. It fits over the cervix like a “cap” and helps prevent sperm and bacteria from entering the cervix. 

The cervical cap should always be used with a gel that immobilizes or kills sperm and should be reapplied before each act of intercourse or after two hours. The cervical cap does not protect against STIs. 

Side effects and risks of the cervical cap include:

If you experience any of these side effects, contact your doctor immediately. In the case of an allergic reaction or toxic shock syndrome, seek immediate medical attention. 

Sponge and diaphragm

The sponge and diaphragm are mostly obsolete forms of birth control as they both have a fairly high failure rate and do not protect against STIs and both require the use of a spermicide which also has a high failure rate.

Spermicides can cause skin irritation around the vaginal area and penis. There is also the risk of an allergic reaction to spermicide which requires immediate medical attention

If the sponge or diaphragm are left in too long, there is a risk of toxic shock syndrome, which requires immediate medical attention.  

Talk to a Felix healthcare practitioner

Birth control can be confusing and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Finding what works best for you can be a challenge, and even after reading this, you might still have questions.


We can help you determine which birth control works best for you, give you a prescription, and have it delivered right to your door. Ready? Start your online visit with Felix today.

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
December 4, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Lasuta
Family Physician, MD, CCFP
Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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