There are common questions that we can answer about all health topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected." Answers to these questions are found under Condition Information. Each health topic frequently has specific questions that pertain only to that topic. We have answered those in this section.
How can I choose a method of contraception?
The choice of birth control depends on many factors. Before deciding on a method of birth control you should consider your overall health, age, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, desire to have children in the future, and family history of certain diseases. Individuals should consult their health care provider to discuss which method of birth control is best for them based on the above criteria. It is also important to discuss birth control methods with your sexual partner.
What are the health risks and side effects associated with contraception?
Different forms of contraception carry different health risks and side effects, and some of them are serious. It is important to talk to a health care provider to determine your specific health risks and which method of contraception is right for you. The HHS Office on Women's Health website maintains information about the possible side effects of each type of contraception.1
Combined hormonal birth control methods can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and blood clots. The risk of these conditions is higher in pregnancy than with any currently marketed birth control methods, so women need to weigh the benefit of protection from pregnancy with the risk of any specific birth control method. Women are at higher risk for these outcomes if they are more than 35 years old and smoke tobacco or if they have histories of blood clots or breast or endometrial cancer. They may be advised not to use combined hormonal methods of birth control.
It is important to monitor any side effects and consult your health care provider if you experience discomfort.
What are the health benefits associated with contraception?
Contraception is most often used to help prevent pregnancy. It can be helpful for women who do not wish to become pregnant and who are at higher risk for health problems associated with pregnancy. These can include an increased risk for high blood pressure, blood clots, gestational diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The risks of these conditions are higher in women who are obese, are older than 35, or who smoke tobacco. For women with high risk factors who need to avoid pregnancy, IUDs and implants may be the most effective methods.
Progestin-releasing IUDs may also reduce or prevent bleeding problems. Other health benefits for certain methods include reducing acne, treating anemia associated with excessive bleeding, and reducing the risk of endometrial, ovarian, or colon cancer. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of the methods as well as the risk associated with pregnancy with your health care provider.
What should I do if I want to become pregnant?
If you want to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider about stopping your birth control.
When taking oral contraceptives, ovulation can be restarted by stopping taking the pill. It is possible to become pregnant during the next menstrual cycle after stopping the pill, but it may take 1 or 2 months before you return to the previous timing of your cycle.2 If you are using a contraceptive patch or vaginal ring, removing the device stops the delivery of hormones, and the results are similar to stopping oral contraception. Recovery of fertility after injections of Depo-Provera® may take longer, up to 10 months in some cases.
IUDs must be removed by a health care professional. After removal, pregnancy is possible at any time.3
An implanted rod must also be removed by a health care provider. The implant is removed through a small cut in your arm, and pregnancy is possible any time after the implant is removed.2
Is contraception used for things other than preventing pregnancy?
Yes. Use of oral contraceptives can also reduce severe menstrual cramps, make menstrual bleeding lighter, and clear up acne. There is also evidence that use of the pill can reduce the risk of endometrial,ovarian, and colon cancer, reduce the occurrence of cysts in the breasts and ovaries, protect against iron deficiency anemia, and improve bone density.2 The hormonal IUD can also reduce severe menstrual cramps and make menstrual bleeding lighter.
Oral contraception can also be used treat other gynecological disorders, such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome. The pill may also offer some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility if left untreated.
- Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health. (2011, November). Birth control methods fact sheet. Retrieved June 4, 2012 from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/birth-control-methods.html [top]
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (2012). Birth control. Retrieved June 4, 2012, from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control-4211.htm [top]
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2012). Intrauterine device: FAQ014. Retrieved June 24, 2012, from http://www.partnershipforwomen.com/ACOG_pdf/faq014.pdf (PDF - 257 KB) [top]