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How long can a woman safely stay on birth control?

Posted: January 13, 2010

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Q: How long can a woman safely stay on birth control?

A:  To get to the bottom of this question, I went right to the experts at Student Health Women's Services, and I'm happy to report that the news is good. 

While birth control pills can obviously have side effects while you're taking them, there are really no lingering adverse effects after you stop, no matter how long you've been on them.  So whether you take them for 5 months or 15 years, you'll be in the same (hopefully good) shape once you stop. 

There used to be a concern that women who were on oral contraceptives for a long time were at a higher risk of amenorrhea - i.e. that their periods wouldn't start back up normally - but that turned out not to be the case.  The levels of the hormones in newer pills are low enough that they don't cause any trouble for the vast majority of women who take them.

And don't forget the positives of being on birth control, which greatly outweigh the risks for the vast majority of women who take them.  In addition to the obvious - keeping you from getting pregnant - birth control pills also have the following positive effects:

  • Prevent anemia (low iron levels)
  • Improve pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and menstrual cramps
  • Lessen the frequency and severity of endometriosis flare-ups
  • Lower the risk of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and ectopic pregnancies

As always, if you have any questions about birth control, please make an appointment to see the staff of Student Health Women's Services.  They are always happy to answer your questions and will help you find the birth control option that is right for you.

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

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