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Are Birth Control Pills Over-Prescribed?

© Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (@rhsupplies) on Unsplash.

How has a contraceptive become a skincare essential?

From 2017-2018, GPs in the UK prescribed the Combined Pill to over 3 million patients. Despite its nasty common side effects - such as vomiting, diarrhoea, and headaches - the Pill still remains the most common choice of contraceptive. Not all 3 million of these people are on this medication for contraceptive reasons, however. Contraceptive pills have been prescribed for all sorts of reasons: regulating an individual’s periods, lessening their cramps, and even for acne. It is remarkably easy to be prescribed the pill, despite the plethora of side effects it can come with and the risk of blood clots it comes with. If there are so many side effects, and if it can have such a vast impact on a person’s mood and emotions, why are teens as young as 13 being prescribed it for nothing more than their completely normal acne?

One doctor, Dr John Littell M.D, has said that many physicians don’t make patients fully aware of potential side effects as although ‘depression, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and increased risk of blood clots are most certainly problematic, most doctors are trained to see them less of a problem [...] than the overarching “problem” of pregnancy’ - specifically, an unwanted pregnancy. So, even for issues unrelated to contraception, putting more people on birth control prevents the bigger issue of unwanted pregnancy further down the line as the patient would already be on birth control. This is indicative of how a lot of the time people who menstruate are not taken seriously by medical professionals, with their concerns being brushed off or ignored. It seems that if you menstruate, it doesn’t matter what medical issue you have: your GP will put you on the Pill regardless.

Prescribing contraceptive pills for other issues, such as heavy period cramps, can actually mask more serious issues. One woman was told by her doctor that "most women with endometriosis report heavy periods and intense cramping in their early teenage years—but we put them on the Pill right away, so we never know they have the disease.” Perhaps if the concerns and complaints of teenagers were taken more seriously, endometriosis could be treated more effectively, or diagnosed in patients earlier. Prescribing contraceptive medication comes with a very unique issue which is that where other medications ‘are usually only prescribed when medically necessary, the Pill is prescribed routinely and by default [...] the Pill is often prescribed without any sense of hesitation from the prescribing physician - stating risks is viewed as less important than encouraging the woman to take it’. Apparently, an issue as minor as acne is enough of medical concern for a teenager to go on a hormone-altering drug for years of their life.

The Pill can be an incredibly liberating medication for many people. Since it became available back in the ’60s, ‘it has allowed many to control their own fertility and manage conditions such as dysmenorrhoea (painful periods), non-menstrual pelvic pain and heavy menstrual bleeding’. But for as many people as this medication helps, it seems to harm just as many. When the Pill has been linked to depression, blood clots, and to many other issues, there should be more caution when prescribing it - especially if individuals have medical histories (or their family have histories) with similar issues. Patients deserve the right to be educated and made aware of the risks that could come with taking the Pill, especially for extended periods of time, and maybe GPs should be searching for alternative solutions and treatments for issues that don’t immediately require contraception.


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