Birth Control Pills Can Be A Perimenopause Lifesaver —​ If You Watch For These Side Effects

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Birth Control Pills Can Be A Perimenopause Lifesaver —​ If You Watch For These Side Effects
Health And Wellness

Aging in our society is tough. For women, there's a lot of pressure to remain youthful, thin and beautiful on the outside — all while trying to take care of our changing bodies and our health.

Perimenopause symptoms, in particular, can be challening to deal with. Night sweats, irregular bleeding, nausea — nobody looks forward to that!

It can also be hard to know how to deal with perimenopause when you aren't sure whether your discomfort is due to your changing hormones or something else.

RELATED: This Is What Perimenopause Feels Like (& Why We Need To Stop Being So Ashamed Of It)

The good news is, there is hope. Many people have found that taking a low-dose birth control under the guidance of an attentive healthcare provider can be helpful.

No matter what medications you take, there's a risk of side effects. Even if you’ve never experienced one yourself, you’ve likely heard the long, complicated, and often surprising list of potential risks spelled out in TV ads for pharmaceuticals.

Hormonal birth control, like oral contraceptive pills, is no exception. However, people trying to prevent pregnancy aren't the only ones being prescribed birth control pills.

Many people who live with uncomfortable perimenopausal symptoms are being prescribed low dose oral contraceptives to help them cope.

Online medical info site MDEdge|ObGyn explains that "among the many benefits oral contraceptives (OCs) offer perimenopausal women are effective contraception, a stable menstrual cycle, protection against ovarian and endometrial cancers, an easing of vasomotor symptoms, and prevention of bone loss."

According to Dr. Sherry A. Ross, a physician, women’s health expert, and author of She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., some of the most common side effects of hormonal birth control include:

  • bloating
  • irregular bleeding
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • breast tenderness
  • depression

RELATED: What It's Like To Experience Perimenopause In Your 30s — And Know You're Destined For Early Menopause

Unfortunately, the range of hormonal changes that take place in your body over a lifetime can make it harder to recognize these medications as the culprit.

That's why this information, along with some less-common birth control pill side effects, is especially important for people going through perimenopause.

After being prescribed a low-dose estrogen pill for perimenopausal symptoms in my mid-40s, I moved to a smaller midwestern town with a physician shortage.

Within the extra few months that it took me to seek out and get an appointment with a nurse practitioner in an OB/GYN’s office, I began to experience a host of symptoms that looked like the onset of menopause, especially nightly temperature fluctuations that caused sleeplessness, depression, and many missed periods.

When I was finally able to see a nurse practitioner, she told me she suspected that the pill I was taking was creating these symptoms, because menopause seemed a few years too early. She tested my hormones as a baseline, and, seeing that they were all depleted, switched me to a progesterone-based pill.

Over the next six months, my symptoms — and the depression that accompanied it — began to lift.

“There are different hormonal cycles where hormonal fluctuations are life-changing and disruptive, perimenopause is one of them,” says Dr. Ross, adding that puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause and infertility can also create challenging hormonal cycles. “Symptoms of perimenopause may be episodic because ovarian function waxes and wanes in an unpredictable fashion.”

In essence, the ways in which hormones can go through dramatic ups and downs during perimenopause can make it tricky to figure out what's causing your discomfort.

Taking oral contraceptives at the advice of your medical practitioner can be very helpful for people treating perimenopausal symptoms, but they should be aware of some of the lesser-known side effects.

The wide range of other side effects of birth control pills may depend on the hormonal birth control you are using.

Here are few examples of less-common side effects of birth control pills:

  • weight gain
  • decreased sex drive
  • vaginal discharge
  • brown spots on the face called melasma
  • hair loss
  • skin rash
  • acne
  • changes in appetite
  • dizziness
  • back pain
  • nervousness
  • changes in eyesight resulting in a fluctuating eyeglass prescription

RELATED: 3 Lifestyle Changes You Need To Make To Ease The Most Common Symptoms Of Menopause

“It’s important to know these side effects are temporary and if they don’t go away in two to three months you should change to another type of pill,” says Dr. Ross. “Because there are many different types and combinations of estrogen and progesterone depending on your side effects and body type.”

When experiencing any symptoms that you suspect might be due to hormonal birth control, it is important to keep a record of what is happening.

If you are taking oral contraceptives, many of the apps that remind you when to take your pills also allow you to track patterns of bleeding, moodiness, breast tenderness, fatigue, as well as anything that feels different or amiss in your body or mood, even if you aren’t certain that it is related.

There are many apps available on your phone, such as MyPill and BC Pill Reminder, which offer diary-keeping features that help you track symptoms, as well as daily reminders to take your pill. Keeping a small notebook handy to track daily patterns also works well to provide you and your physician with the information you need.

“Paying attention to these types of symptoms is important since there are easy treatment options if needed. For many women, life starts to move in slow motion and it seems like the hormonal upheaval will never end,” says Dr. Ross.

She also insists that your health care provider should be guiding you through finding the right treatment for your perimenopause symptoms. "If you are not feeling satisfied with what you’re being told, then get a second opinion," she insists.

For me, it only took one change of birth control pills to find a treatment for my perimenopausal symptoms. For others, it might take more. Talk with your healthcare provider about what you’re going through.

There are a number of good treatments for perimenopausal symptoms these days — some hormonal, some not— and you don’t have to suffer in silence or simply accept that being uncomfortable is part of aging.

RELATED: 10 Disturbing Things Nobody Ever Told Me About Going Through Menopause

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Tracy Zollinger Turner is an award-winning feature writer and editor. Find out more about her on her website or follow her on Twitter.