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Irregular Periods and Oral Contraception: What You Should Know


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Oral contraceptives (OCs) can trigger many side effects. The list in patient inserts is long and not particularly detailed.

Many patients may be confused by the terminology and simply not understand what effect the Pill may have on their menstrual cycles.

While some physicians prescribe oral contraceptives to regulate menstrual cycles, there are multiple ways that the Pill can impact a woman's menses. These changes can be confusing and upsetting, especially if the woman is uninformed. Birth control pills can cause menstrual periods to become irregular. Some women skip periods altogether and some experience bleeding and spotting between periods. These experiences can be distressing and anxiety producing.

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The absence of monthly bleeding can be emotionally stressful for women, especially those who are sexually active. A monthly period is a reassuring sign that a woman is not pregnant and that her birth control pills are working. When a period is missed, a woman may suspect pregnancy and act accordingly. She may stop taking the Pill or other medications, thinking she is pregnant. A woman may also suffer severe distress if she thinks that she has an unplanned pregnancy. The acute anxiety produced by suspicion of pregnancy can be very detrimental to a woman's mental health.

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Bleeding or spotting between periods can be emotionally upsetting as well. Unexpected vaginal bleeding can be indicative of many disorders such as cancer or polyps. A patient could be unnecessarily frightened by this occurrence. Then there is the practical problem of breakthrough bleeding. Being caught in a situation where a woman is not expecting to experience bleeding can be uncomfortable and awkward. After being in this position, a woman will be anxious that it will recur.

Tied to the menstrual irregularities are the emotional effects of birth control pills. Studies have shown that women taking the Pill may experience decreased libido, depression, and emotional lability (frequently changing moods).With those issues in mind, additional stress and anxiety produced by irregular menstrual periods may simply exacerbate the mental health symptoms.

By taking oral contraceptives, women are seeking to prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, this method of prevention carries a myriad of adverse effects, including changes in menstruation that may impact a woman's emotional health. Since mood changes and depression are already linked to OC use, women should be aware of the impact that other side effects may have on their social/emotional health.

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