Hear My Story: Undisclosed Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill

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“I was diagnosed with endometriosis and was asked to take oral contraceptives as a part of the treatment.

I had to try out various pills to kind of figure out which works best for me. Most of the pills I tried came with a leaflet which included the side effects of the pill and were comparatively expensive. So I’m guessing a lot of women won’t be able to afford them. Personally, I had less side effects with these.

The last pill I tried was Mithuri which I believe is one of those FPA approved pills and was one of the cheapest brands out there which I guess means many women use this as their contraceptive pill. This came with a leaflet with directions for use, but didn’t have the side effects. Neither did my gyno (who is either the head or second in command of the gyno ward of a public hospital!!) ask or warn me about side effects.

Mithuri was the pill I reacted to most and had the most severe side effects, which I found out after googling the drug and connecting the dots myself! It basically crippled my day-to-day life.

What really bothers me here is that women getting access to the cheaper pill may not have the same privilege to look into the side effects, make the connections and lifestyle adjustments or seek medical help. I don’t know if the government health services, FPA etc. warn women and families of the side effects which are both physical and mental. Women could be suffering from severe mood swings and even depression and not know why they feel that way, and neither would their families be in a position to understand this due to lack of knowledge and awareness.”

Status Quo

Oral contraceptive pills* can be purchased over the counter of a pharmacy anywhere in Sri Lanka. The combined oral contraceptive pill comes in several brands including Mithuri (Rs.120 per month), Femilon (Rs.556 per month) and Yasmin (Rs.1658 per month).

  • Oral contraceptives are present in two forms, the combined pill and the mini pill. They both work by altering hormone levels in the body, preventing ovulation. The combined pill alters both estrogen and progesterone levels, whilst the mini pill alters progesterone levels.

Problem

  • No guidance was given on which brand of contraceptive pill to use even by the gynecologist consulted, and the side effects were not always being disclosed on the products themselves.
  • Experienced severe side effects after taking the pill, especially emotional changes, without the resources nor prior knowledge on how to deal with them.
  • The societal misconception that the pill is a “one-size fits all” solution for most people, is misleading and isolating.
  • Lack of public education and awareness on the side effects of the oral contraceptive pill and the effects of different brands.
  • Hormonal changes may lead to physical and emotional side effects such as; thrombosis, low blood pressure, depression, breast tenderness, mood swings and so on. These can affect various individuals to varying capacities.

Solutions and takeaways.

  • Be proactive in asking about the possible effects of the pill.
  • Do consult a gynecologist in order to find the pill most suitable for you.
    Factors to be considered are; the reason for using the pill (contraception, hormone regulation etc.), age, family and personal medical history and very significantly, lifestyle choices (including smoking).
  • Consult your doctor immediately in case side effects occur and opt for another brand. Different brands affect individuals differently, so, choose the brand which is the most effective and has the least amount of side effects for you.
  • Price is not linked to the effectiveness and suitability of the birth control pill, so, consult your doctor in order to decide which brand is best suited for you.
  • Sources for more information include; the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, your local gynecologist or organizations working in health and health education. Reach out and clarify any doubts, do not feel isolated in your situation.

Written and compiled by: Tharakie Pahathkumbura (Researcher), Tamara Jayasinghe (Mentor) and Dr. Rashmira Balasuriya (Head of Mentors).

Cover Photo: “LOOK MAGAZINE – ILLUSTRATIONS” by Súa Agapé is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

We hope to publish stories, along with a problem-solution analysis, to acknowledge and create a space to benefit those who may be experiencing unspoken medical pitfalls. To respect the privacy of those who share their stories, these quotes will be kept anonymous. If you have a story of systemic failure or concern in the medical field with regard to your sexual or reproductive health, we welcome you to share your story. Email us at contact@arkainitiative.org or direct message us on Facebook or Instagram @arkainitiative, with a word count of 200 words or fewer.

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