While the primary purpose of birth control is to prevent pregnancy, some teenagers and college students opt to use it to clear up acne, regulate their menstrual cycles or alleviate cramps.
UM’s Student Health Center helps women on campus weigh the pros and cons of using birth control and understand the differences among them.
Nahida Chakhtoura, an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Miller School of Medicine, said that the first step is for students to understand that there are different options for using birth control.
“They should consider their lifestyle and if the birth control is just for conception when choosing which one,” Chakhtoura said.
There are several types of contraception with different risks for women.
These include the oral birth control taken daily; the Nuvaring, a vaginal ring inserted for three weeks a month; the patch placed directly on the skin; and the Depro-Provera, a shot administered every three months.
Megan Williams, a registered nurse at the health center, advises students to consider personal and family history with their physicians when deciding the type of birth control that is right for them.
For example, some of the options containing hormones put patients with history of blood clots or cardiovascular disease at greater risk of stroke, high blood pressure or blood clots she said.
“Several different types of birth control, such as the pills, the patch and the Nuvaring have estrogen, which puts women with these predisposing conditions more at risk,” Williams said.
For women who take a low-dose hormonal birth control, the risk of blood clot or stroke is six in 10,000, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
This is compared to the three in 10,000 of women who do not take birth control.
Patients often make their decisions on birth control based on how much they want to spend and how frequently they want to take it.
“I had to switch to a different pill because my insurance covered it, which costs only $10,” freshman Kristen Schlotzhauer said.
Some options, like the patch and vaginal ring, need less maintenance than the daily birth control pill. The Depro-Provera shot only needs to be administered once every three months, but this requires a visit to a physician.
Considering these pros and cons, college students tend to prefer the pills, said William.
“They are inexpensive and are easy to use, very simple and straightforward,” she said.
Schlotzhauer prefers the pill because she can control and track its progress.
“The pill is not such a hassle because I set a daily alarm,” Schlotzhauer said. “I have considered the three-month option, but I feel safer and more comfortable because I know how many I take.”
Though some think birth control usage may come with risks, several people feel comfortable using the medications.
“Sometimes you will see that there are certain studies that show that a birth control might be dangerous, but the FDA may not consider it to be, so you should do that research yourself,” senior Ryan Walker said.
She is a chair of A Week 4 Life, a student organization which helps promote education about reproductive health. While these main risk factors are pretty rare, there are other general side effects that some patients experience, said Williams.
They include mood swings, nausea, vomiting and abnormal bleeding. Williams recommends that if a patient experience any of these symptoms, then they should continue the pill for three months before evaluating what to do with their physician. These general symptoms often subside after that period.
“However in emergent situations, where you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, or abdominal pain, seek help,” Williams said.
Students considering birth control should speak with a physician. The health services at UM can be a help to anyone who wishes to move forward with the decision.
“When deciding on a birth control, make sure to ask all the questions necessary and know that there are different option,” Chakhtoura said. “The birth control pills are not the only option, so the patient should try to find the option that suits their life best.”