Migraines cause throbbing pain in the head. These are intense, sometimes accompanied by auras. It may also lead to light sensitivity and nausea. You may experience unusual sensations or see flashes of light. Women taking hormonal birth control pills either get relief from migraines. Or, encounter an increase in the episodes.
These medications may have a few side effects. Also, they can reduce the impact of certain health issues. Now, at the receiving end you are in case of migraine, let us understand it through this post. We will discuss the working of oral contraceptives, side effects, risk factors to headaches.
Working of Birth Control Pills
You can take oral contraceptive pills to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Most of the pills contain Ethinyl Estradiol. This is the man-made version of estrogen. Or, they can also contain progestin (a synthetic version of progesterone). The pills that contain both these hormones are combination pills.
Then there are progestin-only pills. These do not contain estrogen. So, the amount of progestin and estrogen in birth control pills may differ. In the menstrual cycle, at some point, the estrogen level increases. This leads to ovulation. The ovaries, in this case, release a mature egg.
Taking hormonal birth control pills regulates estrogen levels. The pill stabilizes the estrogen amount in the body. This restricts the ovaries from releasing a mature egg. The medicine also makes it harder for sperm to go through the cervix. This happens because the cervical mucus gets thick.
Also, the pill may stop the fertilization process. The fertilized egg, if any, does not implant on the uterine lining. The endometrial lining gets thinner due to the pill’s effect. This is when you experience withdrawal bleeding. But do not confuse it with menstrual bleeding.
Effect of Birth Control Pills and Migraines
Oral contraceptives can either ease migraines or make them worse. So, how does a pill affect migraines? This completely depends on the hormone level in the medication. When estrogen levels drop, you may get headaches. This is why many times just before periods, headaches happen.
The culprit here is a dip in estrogen level. In case of menstrual migraines, you can depend on birth control pills for relief. The medicines manage the estrogen level throughout the menstrual cycle. It prevents intense episodes of headaches. But for some, the pill may increase migraines.
This usually happens with the use of combination birth control pills. But you can expect the headaches to reduce after a few months of using the pills. Thus, how a contraceptive tablet affects migraines is controversial. It is according to a woman’s health as well as the hormone content in the medication.
Other Side Effects and Risk Factors
Apart from migraines, side effects of birth control pills are breast tenderness and nausea. You may also encounter mild headaches, mood swings, swelling of gums, bleeding between periods. In some cases, you may see weight gain and increased vaginal discharge.
Migraines and birth control pills may slightly raise the risk of stroke. You must see a doctor immediately if you get aura and migraines together. Because this may increase the risk of stroke even more. In this case, the physician may prescribe progestin-only pills.
Blood clotting linked to hormonal birth control may also cause:
- Pulmonary embolism
- Heart attack
- Deep vein thrombosis
The risk of blood clots is not so much. But it may increase if you have high blood pressure or smoke cigarettes. Or, if you are overweight or on bed rest for a long period. If you feel that these symptoms are something you relate to, then talk to your doctor. He/she will find other alternatives for birth control that poses a lower risk.
Alternatives to Birth Control Pills
If you want to try an alternative to oral contraceptives, then we have a few suggestions. The following may not cause migraines or headaches. The options are:
- Timing-based methods to refrain from intercourse when you are most fertile
- Male or female condoms
- Cervical cap
- Tubal ligation or vasectomy (permanent sterilization)
- Copper intrauterine device
Types of Birth Control Pills
You can either take a combination pill (progestin and estrogen) or a progestin-only pill:
These pills contain progestin and estrogen. The female sex hormones stop ovulation. With balanced estrogen levels, the ovaries do not release a mature egg. Also, the cervical mucus thickens. So, the sperm does not surpass the cervix easily. It cannot mate with the egg or fertilize the same.
Even if fertilization happens somehow, pregnancy will not take place. This is because the pill also thins out the endometrial lining. So, when the uterine lining sheds, the egg cannot implant in the uterus. When you look to avail combination birth control pill packs, you have two options.
You can either purchase a 21-days or 28-days pack. In the 21-days pack, you will get 21 active pills. Each pill will contain hormones. You need to take one pill every day without fail. Take it once a day at the same time every day. Continue the dose of one each pill for 3 weeks. But the 4th week, take no pills.
It in this interval duration, you can expect withdrawal bleeding. Even if you do not get the bleeding, do not delay starting with the new pack from the 29th day. Now, in a 28-days pack, everything is the same regarding dosing and time to consume the pills. The only difference is the pack has 21 active pills with hormones.
But it also has an additional 7 pills that are inactive. These tablets do not contain the hormone. But the placebo pills help to continue the habit of consuming a pill per day at a particular time. You will get the withdrawal bleeding when on inactive pills. Start with a new pack from the 29th day to continue with protection against pregnancy.
There are combination birth control pills that reduce the number of menstrual bleedings in a year. This is a continuous dose option. For instance, if you get a period every month, you can expect 12 periods in a year. But with the continuous dose option, you can bring down the frequency to 4 or less in a year.
Here, the pills only have hormone progestin in them. They are also termed minipills. These have progestin in lesser quantities than in combination pills. As there is no estrogen, the medicine can only prevent ovulation. But sometimes, it may also change the consistency of the uterine lining and cervical mucus.
Progestin-only pill packs do not have reminder pills in them. You have to take one pill every day at a particular time. It is important to not miss any dose to maintain the efficacy of the pill. Progestin-only birth control works for those who cannot tolerate estrogen.
How to Manage Migraines on Birth Control?
Combination birth control pill packs contain 7 inactive pills. In the duration of the placebo, estrogen levels may drop. This may cause migraines. To get over headaches, switch to a pill that contains estrogen but at a lower amount. Thus, there is no sudden drop in the hormone level.
Or, you may take a birth control pill that has a low estrogen dose in placebo pills. You may even go for continuous dose pills such as Seasonable or Seasonique. You have to continue with 28 pills every month without a break for 3 months. After this, take a break for 4 to 7 days.
Another option is Lybrel. Here you do not take any break. You have to keep on taking the active pills. These medications come with a steady dose of estrogen. So, you can expect some respite from migraines. Also, you may not experience headaches at all.
Then there are progestin-only pills. These may either worsen or improve migraines. The reason behind this is every woman responds differently to medications. The response is further unique because of hormone fluctuations. If the pill leads to the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea), the headaches may reduce.
But the progesterone pills may not always stop ovulation. So, you will encounter fluctuation in estrogen levels. This can result in migraines. If you want a non-oral alternative, switch to a monthly shot. Or, you can choose a birth control implant, IUD.
If your birth control pills give you migraines, then you must speak with a doctor. He/she may switch the brand or contraception method. But do not stop taking the pill suddenly by yourself. Because the risk of an unplanned pregnancy is higher when you have unprotected intercourse.
The doctor will look at your medical history to suggest the safest option for you. Some of the alternatives are vaginal rings, injections, and intrauterine rings. Reveal the medicines and supplements you take. Because even they may influence your health in some way.
Steer away from interacting products and medicines. These may affect the working of birth control pills. Also, interacting medications can give migraines and other severe health issues. You can even opt for condoms or barrier methods. You can use it at the time of intercourse.