How long should I stick it out with birth control before giving up?
April 18, 2014 11:54 AM   Subscribe

How long should I stick it out with the birth control pill before giving up? I've been on it for only a week and a half and already have incredibly obnoxious side effects.

I'm on Alesse and have never been on HBC before. The nurse who gave them to me told me to stick it out for a full three months before opting to go off of it or switch the pill, and assured me that most alleged side effects aren't really based in reality.

Since starting on it I am constantly nauseous and/or incredibly hungry at the same time, full of inexplicable rage and 100% sexually apathetic. None of these are symptoms I have ever experience before and I don't know if my new relationship can deal. Is it totally nuts to give up on it right away or am I not giving it a fair chance?
posted by vanitas to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
ANY medical professional who tries to tell you that side effects from HBC are not based in reality should have their license revoked. Hormones do crazy, crazy stuff to your mind and body, and when behavior that you've never experienced before suddenly crops up when you start a pill, you are right to start asking questions about whether or not that's normal.

If I were you, I would get an appt with another GYNO immediately and let him or her know that you need a different pill. It took me three pills before I found one that did not make me out of my mind. Good on you for trusting your instincts here.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:59 AM on April 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

If an OCP gives me weird side effects (especially mood-related!) I drop it immediately—there are plenty of others to choose from. Why suffer longer?
posted by homodachi at 12:00 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

No reason to stick with HBC pills if you're sick. I've tried several different pills and had similar issues. The last time got so bad that my husband actually stole my pills after a month. I switched to Mirena, and for some reason my body tolerates the hormones tons better that way.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:06 PM on April 18, 2014

So, every hormonal birth control method I ever tried COMPLETELY f'ed my emotions and sex drive up. We're talking legit depression, inability to go to work, total absence of sex drive, etc.

I found a lot of healthcare professionals to be patronizing or apathetic about the symptoms which was even more difficult because of my emotional state. My favorite was at 19 when a nurse asked me (during a time that hormonal birth control was causing me to cry uncontrollably when ANYTHING went wrong), "Well, do you want to be sad or do you want to be PREGNANT?" -- as if those were my only two options. Thanks, lady.

After a long stint of condom usage I ended up going with a copper IUD which has been great albeit gives me slightly more cramps than I used to have.

Are the symptoms impairing everyday life? Stop and try something else - this obviously isn't working for you. There are lots of options (check out Bedsider for a great overview -- NSFW if your office frowns on images of condoms and IUDs).
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

It isn't nuts to give up. There are so many other options, including trying another pill.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:11 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hermione is exactly right re: the comment about the side effects being "not based in reality." I would personally get a new doctor/nurse after hearing that comment.

In my experience the physical side effects of the pill do generally wear off after a few weeks (e.g., nausea) but the mood side effects (inexplicable rage and sexual apathy) rarely do. Anecdotal, of course, but that's what I've found. In your shoes I would stop taking this pill immediately.

Sometimes there is a lot of trial and error involved in finding a good pill. Your doctor/nurse should be prepared to work with you to find the best fit for you.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:12 PM on April 18, 2014

If this is the first HBC you've tried and it's making you feel this bad, I think you might as well try others ASAP instead of suffering through it. There are so many different kinds out there. It look me 2 or 3 different kinds to find one that worked for me. (And or what its worth, it DID take me a few months for the side effects of my current HBC to go away, but I only stuck it out because they weren't as bad what you are going through.)
posted by Shadow Boxer at 12:15 PM on April 18, 2014

There are many different formulations of hormones in birth control that different women seem to tolerate in different ways. It's likely that some symptoms will subside after some time, but unless there's some medical reason to stay on it that outweighs the side effects, I've never seen the point.
posted by muddgirl at 12:18 PM on April 18, 2014

If you really want to dig into the different kinds of birth controls and the "whys" of why they cause different reactions, and you can tolerate a little scientific language, this article talks about the different kinds of progestin hormones in different birth controls, and this article talks about the three different effects of progestins.
posted by muddgirl at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

Unless you're having such mind blowing sex with your new boyfriend that completely depends on him not wearing a condom and you hate condoms (you, not him, you), drop any HBC that isn't working for you. It's not worth it. Try other HBCs or get fitted for a diaphragm or cervical cap or just tell him to wear a condom every time. Don't waste your time being sick, anxious and nauseated. And if any NP or doc says to stick with something that makes you feel sick, be firm and say no.

And get a new NP. I bled for awhile trying HBC waiting for it to sync up or whatever and that was ridiculous. You deserve to feel well.
posted by discopolo at 12:35 PM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

My anecdotal experience is that the first time I went on the pill (also Alesse), I did have really horrible side effects (nausea and mood swings and the whole nine, I had basically every side effect they said you might experience) but for me they really did go away after a couple of months, once my body got used to it, I guess. So it is definitely possible that these side effects will go away.

Of course, I stuck with it because I had non-contraception reasons for being on the pills, but if you don't, there's no reason not to find an alternate method of birth control that doesn't make you feel miserable!
posted by SoftRain at 12:42 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

If the effects you experience are so strong, drop the pill and consider switching to NuvaRing type HBC (it is more localized and the hormone doses are lower), or go to an IUD.

I've been on OBC for like 20 years for PCOS and never have had anything like that, but these effects definitely happen for some women :/

Also, keep in mind that the first month you don't get the full contraceptive effect, and if you throw up, the contraceptive effect might be compromised, too, so don't forget to use a condom if you're sexually active.
posted by sukeban at 1:07 PM on April 18, 2014

I have really unpleasant side effects from the pill, but they vanish like magic as soon as I start my second pack.

Definitely not suggesting you stay on them if they're making you that miserable, but sometimes your body really will adjust.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:07 PM on April 18, 2014

I went on Alesse back around 2001, and stayed on it for something like 3-6 months. The mood swings were so bad that it turned my irritating-but-not-requiring-medication depression into full-on Zoloft depression. I never went back on HBC after that and have used condoms ever since.
posted by jabes at 2:10 PM on April 18, 2014

It took me probably six months before I felt almost normal on my former BC method of choice, so I believe that your body does need time to adjust. That said, those side effects were VERY real, and while I did eventually get comfortable with everything else, my sex drive still nosedived! After a year, I went back to condoms, and things have been better. Your body knows, I don't care what one nurse says. So, if your relationship is suffering from side effects already, I would just drop the Alesse and try something else. It could take you time to find a pill or other method that agrees with your body, and you should expect some side effects initially, but it shouldn't ruin your life.
posted by Gee, June! at 4:58 PM on April 18, 2014

IANYD, but: it takes about three months for your body to get used to side effects from oral contraceptives (OCPs). That said, I'm nthing the comments that "not based in reality" is bad advice. Side effects are *different* for everyone, but if they're intolerable for you, that's not a good method for you. My recommendation would be to wait until the end of the pack so you don't get a bunch of withdrawal bleeding, and request a different type (pill, patch, ring, whatever) for next month. (Caveat: if your mood swings are making you want to hurt yourself or others, stop now, of course).
You could also try to switch to a different method without a break in hormones, but it might be harder to tell which works best in that case.

Alternately: you can try to mitigate the s/e by taking your pill with a meal, and/or at bedtime. The food should help with nausea, and the bedtime regimen might let you sleep through the moodiness. (That's antecdotally effective, at least).
posted by stillmoving at 8:24 PM on April 18, 2014

For me, mild and bearable side-effects from a few different types of HBC slowly disappeared over three months. However, the time I tried a pill that instantly gave me millions of tiny whitehead pimples over my entire body drove me nuts and did not improve over time at all, even though i put up with it for 3 miserable months. If you reacted to the hormones quickly and you hate it, don't wait 3 months to try a different solution - there are a lot of options and no point putting up with one that makes you feel like shit.
posted by harriet vane at 4:39 AM on April 24, 2014

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