Aside from preventing unwanted pregnancies and their related health problems, birth control pills partially protect women from pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause severe abdominal pain and later infertility; they reduce heavy menstrual bleeding and cramps; and they protect against ovarian and uterine cancer and endometriosis. Usually birth control pills help with premenstrual syndrome; they seldom make it worse.

Photographs taken through the electron microscope have shown that bacteria can attach themselves to sperm and ride up into the female reproductive tract on their “backs.” The good news is that oral contraceptives can prevent the sperm and their hostile passengers from making this journey by keeping the cervical mucus hostile to sperm. This ability of bacteria to come along as unwelcome fellow travelers explains why women are most likely to get pelvic inflammatory disease during their menstrual periods. Because the mucus barrier is broken and blood itself is not hostile to bacteria, the bacteria can multiply and move through the cervix into the uterus and beyond.

Although oral contraceptives prevent sperm and their associated bacteria from ascending to the upper part of the reproductive tract where they can infect the fallopian tubes, they do not protect against gonorrhea or chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases. Chances are, though, that if you are infected, these bacteria will remain localized in your vagina or cervix. A localized infection is easier to treat than one where bacteria have started reproducing inside your pelvis. Nevertheless, you are still infected and can pass on the disease to another partner. Taking oral contraceptives is no substitute for using some kind of protection against disease as well.

Birth Control Pills: Risks and Benefits

1. Birth control pills and thrombophlebitis.

If you are a nonsmoker or do not have a history of clotting disorders, your risks are slight.

2. Birth control pills and gallbladder disease.

Birth control pills may increase your risk minimally.

3. Birth control pills and breast cancer.

A few studies have shown that women who started taking the pill when they were younger than 15 and continued to use it for more than thirty years might have a slightly increased risk. Other studies did not bear this out.

4. Birth control pills and ovarian cancer.

Women who take the pill have a 50 percent lower rate of ovarian cancer than women who do not.

5. Birth control pills and uterine cancer.

Women who take birth control pills have a 30 percent lower rate of uterine cancer than women who do not.

6. Birth control pills and benign breast cysts (fibrocystic breast disease). Birth control pills have a protective effect.

7. Birth control pills and painful or heavy menstrual periods. Oral contraceptives reduce heavy bleeding and cramps.


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