How Does Birth Control Affect Your Body?

Hormonal contraception can affect your mood, sleep, and more.

Birth control, also known as contraception, comes in many forms—including hormonal birth control. Hormonal birth control can contain manufactured, or synthetic, forms of two hormones: estrogen and progestin. They can prevent ovulation by changing the levels of those two hormones in the body.

What Are the Different Types of Hormonal Birth Control?

There are several types of hormonal birth control, including:

  • Hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs): A progestin-releasing device that a healthcare provider places in the uterus
  • Implants: A thin, progestin-releasing rod that a healthcare provider inserts under the skin
  • Injections/"Shots": Progestin shots given in the arm or buttocks tri-monthly
  • Oral contraception: Oral prescription medications that either include estrogen and progestin or progestin-only that must be taken at the same time daily
  • Patches: A patch applied on the skin of the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body (except on breasts) that releases estrogen and progestin; should be changed once a week for three weeks in a row and skipped on a fourth week
  • Hormonal vaginal rings: A estrogen-and-progestin-releasing ring that you place in your vagina for three weeks until the week of your period

However, while hormonal birth control is effective in preventing pregnancy, users might also experience side effects like weight gain, headaches, and sleep problems. Read on to learn more about the potential side effects of this kind of birth control.

Young woman holding birth control pills

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Altered Mental Health

Using hormonal birth control can cause changes in your mental health.


A common complaint regarding hormonal birth control is a change in mood. Many people on oral contraceptives report anxiety, depression, or both as a side effect.

One paper provided a summary of the most current literature on the effects of oral contraception on women's moods. Based on the evidence available, the authors conclude that oral contraceptives can likely lead to mood-related side effects, particularly in people with a history of previous depressive episodes.


Some research findings suggested that "hormonal contraceptive use...could potentially increase sensitivity to the impacts of stressors and mood disturbances." The study found that participants who used hormonal contraception reported increased stress levels. They also had higher levels of C-reactive proteins—inflammation markers—and cortisol, a stress hormone.

Blood-related Issues

Some kinds of hormonal birth control—including oral contraception, vaginal rings, and patches—can affect the cardiovascular system. For example, one study found that certain types of hormonal contraception pills were associated with blood pressure changes.

Some hormonal birth control methods containing estrogen may increase the risk of developing blood clots in the veins. Blood clots can lead to deep vein thrombosis, which affect blood flow in the extremities, or cause a pulmonary embolism if they travel to the lungs.

Hypertension, known as high blood pressure, and blood clots can result in heart attacks or strokes. These side effects are rare, but they are still serious. Also, individuals over 35 years of age who smoke should not use combined contraceptive methods due to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular events and stroke.

Digestive Problems

Oral contraception has been known to cause issues with the digestive system. A person might experience the following related to the digestive tract:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Headaches and Migraines

The use of hormonal birth control has been linked with migraines and headaches. During a person's menstrual cycle, they might experience menstrual migraines due to changes in estrogen levels.

As hormonal birth control affects a person's natural estrogen level, headaches may occur. If a person has a history of migraines with aura, they should not take contraception that contains estrogen. Doing so puts them at a higher risk of stroke.

Menstrual Changes

While on hormonal birth control, your bleeding pattern may change. You might have lighter or heavier bleeding or other changes in your flow, such as spotting or bleeding between periods. Periods might also be painful, but menstrual pain—known as dysmenorrhea—is usually lessened on hormonal contraception. Additionally, some individuals may miss periods.

Problems Related to Sex and the Reproductive System

A person may experience issues surrounding sexual activity or the reproductive system if they are using hormonal birth control. These are issues such as:

  • Low or a lack of libido
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Breast or genital pain
  • Vaginal burning, irritation, itching, redness, or swelling

Sleep Issues

There's also a connection between the pill, the sleep-wake cycle, and mood.

Estrogen is involved in maintaining your circadian rhythm, or your internal body clock. Issues with that rhythm can affect the sleep-wake cycle, hormone release, eating habits, digestion, and body temperature, among other 24-hour cycles. Research showed that when that time-keeping gets thrown off, we're at higher risk for psychiatric illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Weight Changes

Hormonal birth control can affect a person's weight as well. A decrease in weight might be a side effect for some users of this kind of birth control.

However, it appears that weight gain with hormonal birth control occurs commonly. One study indicated reports of weight gain in general from users of hormonal birth control. Some of those individuals mentioned that they had increased hunger and appetite while using hormonal contraception.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

You'll want to talk with a healthcare provider if birth control side effects become bothersome, severe, or won't go away.

Also, there are several uncommon side effects from hormonal birth control options—particularly oral contraception—that you'll want to tell a healthcare provider about as soon as possible. Some of those effects include:

  • Severe headache, vomiting, or stomach pain
  • Weakness or numbness in legs or arms
  • Double vision, partial loss of vision, or complete loss of vision
  • Extreme fatigue or tiredness
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Swelling of extremities such as hands and feet
  • Fever
  • Dark-colored urine or light-colored stool
  • Chest heaviness or chest pain

Helpful Ways Birth Control Can Affect the Body

Although birth control can have side effects, it can be beneficial for some individuals beyond helping prevent pregnancy when taken properly. Some of those benefits include:

Still, if you're experiencing side effects from a certain type of hormonal contraception, ask a healthcare provider about other birth control options.

A Quick Review

Hormonal birth control has changed lives by making it possible to choose when to start a family. Types of hormonal birth control include options such as oral contraception or IUDs. However, this kind of birth control does come with side effects.

Hormonal birth control may affect mental health, sleep, and other aspects of the body. Still, it can also benefit the body, such as helping with acne or severe cramping. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have concerns about birth control side effects.

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