In the United States, around 13% of women aged 15 to 49 are currently using birth control pills (Contraceptive Use CDC, 2019). The pill is the second most common contraceptive method utilized since its’ first use in 1982.
Despite how common birth control pills are used, there are few studies on the long-term affects of being “on the pill”.
How Does Birth Control Work?
Birth control pills work by stopping sperm from joining with an egg, which is known as fertilization. The combinations of both estrogen and progesterone released at different times hormones cause your body to stop ovulation. Once the hormones have prevented ovulation from occurring, the egg is not able to be fertilized by the sperm.
In addition, the hormones released by taking the pill also thicken the mucus in and around the cervix. When the cervical mucus is thickened, sperm cannot successfully get through the cervix. Lastly, some birth control pills can change the lining of the womb so that a fertilized egg will most likely not be implanted.
There are many different kinds of birth controls that produce various levels of hormones. Understanding these differences can help you determine how hormones may affect your entire system. Some of these affects include:
- Cardiovascular conditions
- Blood clots like deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Increased blood pressure
- Benign liver or uterine tumors
- Potentially some types of cancer
However, we don’t want to scare you. Many of these conditions can be monitored and managed successfully, as well others may only affect people who are already at an increased risk. It’s important to discuss the risks of taking hormonal contraceptives with your doctor.
As we mentioned above, taking birth control pills may increase your risk of benign uterine tumors, also known as uterine fibroids. Find out what you need to know about hormones, birth control pills, and uterine fibroids.
A Little Background on Uterine Fibroids
Did you know that abnormal bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of fibroids? If you are bleeding outside of your menstrual cycle, you’ve noticed that your flow is heavier or longer than normal, or you are experiencing severe pelvic pain, uterine fibroids may be the cause.
Although these benign growths don’t always cause symptoms, they can be responsible for:
- An enlarged uterus
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Abnormal bleeding
- Anemia-induced fatigue
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Frequent urination
- Severe cramps or pelvic pressure
Though researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes uterine fibroids to form, they know they are influenced by hormones. Since birth control pills release estrogen and progesterone into your body, it only makes sense that they could impact fibroid growth.
How Could Birth Control Increase Fibroid Risk?
If you’ve already been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, you may be wondering about taking birth control pills to help control your heavy or lengthy periods. Or, perhaps you are concerned that continuing to take the pill will make your fibroids grow — and you really don’t want things to get any worse than they already are. Then again, maybe you’re in your reproductive years with no fibroids so far, but you’re wondering if taking oral contraceptives might increase your risk or prevent them from developing.
Bottom line: If you’ve got questions about birth control and fibroids, we’ve got answers.
Q&A: Birth Control and Fibroids
Can taking birth control pills shrink my fibroids?
No. There is no evidence that suggests the use of oral contraceptives can reduce the size of your fibroids. Quite the opposite may be true — it is widely believed that birth control pills cause fibroids to grow. This is because there appears to be a connection between fibroids and hormones that affect the uterine lining, particularly with estrogen and progesterone.
If you are looking for ways to shrink or remove your fibroids, we recommend discussing treatment options with a fibroid specialist. If you’ve been avoiding this route because you believe that hysterectomy — the surgical removal of the uterus — is your only treatment option, this simply isn’t true. An effective, non-surgical, outpatient procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) can shrink your fibroids and alleviate painful, inconvenient fibroid symptoms like heavy periods and severe cramps.
Will taking birth control pills impact my fibroid symptoms?
Possibly. For many people, the presence of fibroids can increase the menstrual flow and cause painful cramps. Birth control pills, on the other hand, are known to reduce both. For some, oral contraceptives can stop menstruation altogether.
If you are experiencing heavy, painful periods due to fibroids, your doctor may suggest taking birth control pills to see if they reduce your bleeding. While this may be worth a try, a recent study suggests that it isn’t clear how effective the pill is in relieving fibroid symptoms, or how it compares to other treatments. At this point, we just don’t have sufficient scientific research to make widespread recommendations about using birth control pills to treat fibroid symptoms. We suggest you talk to your doctor about birth control and fibroids for your individual situation.
Along with discussing any potential benefits of birth control and fibroids with a medical provider, we also recommend exploring your full range of fibroid treatment options — both surgical and non-surgical — with a fibroid specialist. Instead of simply treating individual symptoms like excessive bleeding or severe cramping, it may make more sense to address the root cause behind all of your fibroid symptoms. The experts at USA Fibroid Centers can help educate you about what treatments are available.
Will birth control pills cause my fibroids to grow?
Possibly, but the jury is still out on this one. While fibroid growth is not completely understood, research has demonstrated a link between fibroids and hormones. If you already have fibroids, taking birth control pills (especially high-strength ones) can lead to additional fibroid growth.
On the other hand, if you’re free of fibroids currently, there appears to be a slightly lower risk of developing fibroids if you’re also taking birth control pills, especially low-dose estrogen pills. The correlation between birth control and fibroid growth requires additional research for better understanding.
Is a low-dose birth control pill a better option for people with fibroids?
It depends. Two main types of birth control pills exist: The first involves a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone), and the other only uses progestin. The progestin-only type is commonly known as the “mini pill”. Both options have the potential to reduce menstrual bleeding whether or not you have uterine fibroids.
Low-dose birth control pills contain fewer hormones than regular pills and are not believed to cause fibroid growth. They are effective at preventing pregnancy and tend to have fewer side effects and risks than higher strength birth control pills.
If you’re trying to avoid fibroid growth, a low-dose pill may be a better option. However, regular strength birth control pills may offer better control of your fibroid symptoms. It is best to discuss the pros and cons of your unique circumstances with your medical provider when making this decision.
Should I discuss birth control and fibroid treatment with a specialist?
Absolutely. As America’s number-one fibroid treatment provider, USA Fibroid Centers have dozens of clinics located across the nation. Our highly-qualified fibroid specialists want you to be informed of your full range of treatment options.
Many people aren’t familiar with a less invasive fibroid treatment called Uterine Fibroid Embolization — an effective, lower risk, minimally invasive procedure. To learn more about fibroid symptoms, birth control and fibroids, and fibroid treatment, you can consult with one of our top fibroid experts by calling us at 855.615.2555 or scheduling an appointment online today.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019) – https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/contraceptive.htm