Questions To Ask Your Doctor Before You Go On The Pill
If you’re thinking about going on the pill, read this first.
The invention of the pill was a pretty key milestone for women. It is partly to thank for the wave of ‘free love’ that took over the youth of the ‘60s, and allowed women to be in charge of their bodies in a way they’d never been able to before. And while it remains integral for women to have access to the contraceptive pill, recent findings have brought into sharp relief the various dangers that the pill poses for some – not all – women.
While your GP is of course obliged to ask certain questions before placing you on birth control – if you’re pregnant, what your previous reaction to contraceptives has been etc – we do need to take responsibility for our own bodies by asking specific questions relating to our own reproductive, physical and mental health.
This is particularly important in light of a recent study that found women on the combined oral contraceptive are 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression. Add to this that 34% of women on the ‘mini’ pill and 80% of teenagers on the pill are more likely to be depressed, and it’s time we sat up and paid a little bit of attention to what this daily ritual might be doing to our bodies and our brains.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the questions you should be asking your GP along with why you should be asking, along with information you should be giving them before you go on the pill. Of course, every body is different; so if you ever have any concerns at all, don’t be afraid to interrogate the matter until you feel comfortable with what you’re being told.
“What are the side effects of this particular pill?”
Each contraceptive pill is different, and will react with your body and hormones in a variety of ways. And while your GP might not be able to tell you exactly how you will respond to it, it pays to be aware of the side effects other users have experienced. For example, the Yasmin pill has been known to cause breast tenderness, headaches, irregular menstrual cycles, nausea and mood changes. The commonly prescribed Levlen has been associated with weight fluctuations, changes in libido, vomiting and bloating. You may experience none of these, but it is good to have an awareness of potential issues, so that if you do experience any of these, you can return to your doctor and notify them.
“Can I take the pill to solve other health issues?”
Many women don’t take the contraceptive pill for birth control. There are myriad reasons why people use the pill, including to treat acne, regulate menstrual cycles and decrease PMS symptoms. As these can all be caused by hormonal imbalances, some doctors will prescribe the pill as a first course of action. If you have had problems in the past with side effects of the pill, be sure to let your doctor know so they can try and get the right balance of hormones for your particular case.
“What are the different pills available?”
There are two main kinds of contraceptive pill: the mini pill and the combined pill.
The combined pill contains two hormones: oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally. It works to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation and by making the fluid at the uterus’s opening thicker, to prevent sperm getting through.
The mini pill contains only progesterone, and also makes the fluid at the opening of the uterus thicker. Both pills have different side effects – the mini pill, for example, can cause irregular periods, while the combined pill can cause headaches. Be sure to explore these with your GP, as well as what specific pill is ideal for your current situation.
Your health history and medication
If you have a history of irregular periods, heavy bleeding or blood clots, you need to tell your GP. They may recommend a specific pill, or even warn you off the pill altogether, depending on your circumstances. While the contraceptive pill is relatively safe, there are still some dangers, as with any medication. Do yourself a favour and cover all bases.
“Will this affect my other medications?”
Your doctor should ask you what medication you are on before prescribing you the pill, but if they don’t, be sure to drop this question in there. The pill can affect, or be affected by, anti-fungal medications and drugs that mitigate seizures in those with epilepsy, as well as herbal remedies such as St John’s Wort and flaxseed. It’s a narrow selection of medications, but it’s worth checking.
“Will this make me depressed?”
While the research into the link between depression and birth control is still in its early days, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor what they think, in their professional opinion – doubly so if you already suffer from depression or another mental illness. They might not be able to give you a definitive answer as to how it will affect your mental health, but you are better off asking so your doctor is able to monitor how you are feeling.
“Are there any other options?”
There are a variety of birth control options available to us in 2016, yet so many of us still turn to the pill. Be sure to ask your doctor if they think another contraceptive would work just as well, or better, for you.
An IUD, diaphragm, implant, sponge, or just plain old condoms may suit you better than popping pills every day. Ask your doctor’s expert opinion, and express any concerns you might have about their recommendation. Many GPs first reaction is to place you on the pill – if you don’t feel comfortable about this, speak up. Doctors are busy, but it’s their job to make sure you are accessing the best possible healthcare in all areas.
Lead image: Scrubs.
Che-Marie Trigg is a freelance writer and full-time subeditor. Her work has appeared in Virgin Australia Voyeur, Collective Hub and GoPlaces with Toyota magazines among others, as well as on websites like Broadsheet and Junkee. Follow her on Instagram @chemariet.