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Is Your Birth Control Making You Gain Weight?

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

All medications have side effects. From Advil to Zantac, every medication we need for common ailments might have a drawback. For women, birth control can be a bittersweet prescription. On the one hand, women who take it will be protected from pregnancy. However, those same women might experience some unwanted side effects such as moodiness, fatigue and a change in their sex drives. One of the major concerns about birth control—especially for women in the United States—is the potential for weight gain as a side effect. We all try to maintain a healthy weight, so adding birth control into the mix of challenges can be disheartening. Luckily, recent studies show that weight gain might not actually be a side effect of modern birth control.

Every birth control is different, but they are all combinations of the same hormones. They either contain progestin and estrogen, or progestin on its own. However, the levels of each are low, and they have no real effect on weight gain or weight loss. So, why do women think birth control causes weight gain? Many brands list this as a side effect to cover themselves, but the notion started in the 1960’s when birth control became available. The pills back then contained almost 1,000 times the amount needed to prevent pregnancy, so side effects ran rampant.

The hormones themselves might not cause weight gain anymore, but that’s not to say the weight you gain while taking a contraceptive isn’t related to the pill, ring, or patch. Birth control has many other, real side effects that could easily affect your weight. For example, the hormones might cause changes in your mood, which could leave you feeling down in the dumps more than usual. If you’re like most women, you might eat when you’re sad, so weight gain will be inevitable in that scenario. More bad days will lead to more overeating, which will lead to weight gain. You might feel (and act) like a bottomless pit at every meal. Most pills also cause water retention in one form or another, so you might feel especially bloated.

If you notice significant weight gain and feel that it’s related to your birth control, talk to your doctor about switching brands. The hormones alone do not do it, so there’s a good chance your side effects are especially strong. Different brands affect people differently, so try your luck with another.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Free Birth Control For All? Yes!

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

When you’re on a strict budget, out-of-pocket costs can convince a woman to forego birth control. But getting pregnant is a much more expensive proposition and comes with a lifelong commitment — one that many women are neither emotionally or financially ready to make.

The new health care law requires the Department of Health and Human Services to create a list of health services that new health insurance plans must provide without deductibles or co-pays. And the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) has prepared a report recommending that birth control be on that list.

…the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 98 percent of sexually active women will use contraception at some point during their reproductive years, and that cost concerns are frequently cited as a reason for inconsistent use or use of a less then optimal method.


In fact, Guttmacher said in testimony submitted to the IoM earlier this year, “Women citing cost concerns were twice as likely as other women to rely on condoms or less effective methods like withdrawal or periodic abstinence.”

Along with the recommendations concerning birth control, the IOM recommended a number of other preventive care services for women be made available without deductibles or co-pays:

…annual “well-woman” visits; screening of pregnant women for gestational diabetes; screening for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; more support for breast-feeding mothers; and counseling and screening for possible domestic violence.

I urge HHS Secretary Sibelius to accept the IOM recommendations. Women’s health issues have taken a backseat for too long.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH