The pill. It’s a loaded subject that divides opinion and sparks debates, yet those of us who’ve taken it have rarely fully understood how it works and its side effects. Until now.
Chances are, as an endometriosis patient, you’ve been prescribed the pill at some life stage to manage your symptoms.
I’ve been prescribed several different birth control pills. My doctor took me off the first pill because of an increased risk of stroke. I tried other contraceptive pills which all had severe adverse effects on my mental health and, occasionally, my weight. I felt so scarred by these experiences and the dark hole that I found myself in, that I refused to try an intrauterine device, or IUD, despite my doctor telling me the hormonal effects would be isolated inside my womb.
I believe it’s unlikely that the hormones would stay isolated as if my womb could imprison them. Our bodies are made of tissue that absorbs, not metal walls, and it appears I’m not the only one who questions this claim either. However, I’m not an expert; I’m just someone who has come to know her body. And I’m not willing to risk putting myself in a vulnerable position, given my history — womb of steel or not.
Many of us are taking hormonal birth control to help us to manage endometriosis — and that’s fine. I have my own way of managing my condition. I previously used the pill to help me to cope as well, but it just didn’t work out for me. But what I think we are missing here is informed consent. When our doctors prescribe the pill, how many of us know what questions to ask? How many of us understand the medication’s side effects? How many realize what the pill does to our bodies? We say “yes” to taking something, but has our doctor given us all of the information we need to allow us to make an informed decision? Sadly, the answer is “no” in many cases.
Doctors and women’s health specialists are responding to this lack of information and demanding more transparency for their patients.
In my latest podcast interview, I spoke to Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, host of the “Fertility Friday” podcast, about the problem with masking endometriosis symptoms and other period issues with the pill, without first addressing the root of the problem. It still exists, potentially undiagnosed, under the radar for years, and can often return later in more severe forms or cause damage which can go undetected while on the pill.
Lisa also talks about common side effects of the pill, such as depression and low libido, and also discusses some of the lesser-known issues, such as ovary and clitoris shrinkage.
In her new book, “The Fifth Vital Sign,” Lisa explains how we can counteract or minimize these side effects through diet and lifestyle choices. She describes the fertility awareness method as a way of understanding our cycle so that we can begin to address our conditions and learn new ways to manage and treat them without the pill.
Dr. Jolene Brighten is another specialist raising awareness of birth control side effects. She advises on how to take the pill healthily and safely. She was recently on Jessica Murnane’s podcast discussing the impact of hormonal birth control on our brain biochemistry. For example, some forms of the birth control pill deplete particular nutrients we need to make serotonin, resulting in low moods and depression.
On her website, she shares some studies revealing the associations between mood disorders and hormonal birth control.
“In a 2016 study in JAMA, it was found that in women who began the combination pill (ethinyl estradiol and progestin) there was a 23% increased likelihood they’d be later prescribed an anti-depressant for their mood symptoms.”
“Studies have shown young women who use hormonal contraceptives, including the IUD, have three times the risk of suicide compared to women who have never used hormonal birth control.”
The book “Sweetening the Pill” is currently being adapted to a documentary. Meanwhile, courses on fertility tracking and programs for managing birth control without the pill are popping up everywhere.
It’s clear to me that women want more facts. And while there is plenty of information out there, our doctors don’t always give us the full picture. Each of us has the right to manage and treat endometriosis in the way that suits us, and to know the full facts of the medication we’re prescribed. Until the medical industry catches up with us, I’ll be looking toward the period pioneers who are providing us with the answers for which we’ve been searching.
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.