Women disapointed in downfalls of birth control pill

By Bessie King

Five years ago Rob Cabral’s girlfriend told him she was pregnant. She had conceived even with the use of condoms and birth control.

Cabral’s little girl is four years old now. The computer engineering junior is a proud father but said he thinks more information about the effectiveness of the pill should be available.

The pill, which contains synthetic hormones of estrogen and progestogin, was introduced to women in the 1960s. Today there are more than 50 varieties on the market, and it has become one of the most popular methods of contraception. However, many women have been increasingly wary of it but for two very different reasons: some pills contain a high percentage of hormones that cause adverse side effects and some pills contain too low of a percentage of hormones and are therefore less effective. The strength of the medication has thus decreased, and more women are becoming pregnant.

According to Dr. Phillip Hindelang, from Louisiana State University (LSU) Women’s Clinic, 30 percent of women are getting pregnant unexpectedly despite the use of this contraception. Dr. Hindelang said in an article by the Louisiana State University (LSU) Daily Reveille that new pills contain about 35 micrograms of estrogen and progestogin, compared to the 180 micrograms they once had.

This decrease results in less adverse side effects, like blood clots, depression and irregular bleeding, but complete protection for women who rely on the pill to avoid pregnancy is not guaranteed. Still, some medical professionals are not as concerned about these lower amounts.

“The strength of the pill has decreased but there is a balance between the adverse side effect and the effectiveness,” said Todd Brown, professor, clinical specialist and Vice Chair of Pharmacy Practice at Northeastern.

Although this decrease in strength may lead to more pregnancies, if a woman knows how to take the medication accurately it is as effective as it was 40 years ago, Brown said.

Cabral said better birth control education would be beneficial.

“I think more education on the subject of birth control is definitely needed so that women know how to take the pill and what to do if they miss it,” Cabral said. “But I also think men should be more educated to know how to be even more protected also.”

This education is beginning to come from new places. A video posted on YouTube, titled “Kate’s Movie,” criticizes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for allowing certain types of birth control pills to be sold that contain desogestrel, a type of drug that puts women at twice the risk for blood clots.

The video encourages women to get information about which pill can be healthier and most effective, even if the process of taking such pills requires dedicated dose use.

“I used to get horrible chest pains like I was going to have a heart attack without knowing why. I cut down on my medication and I felt better immediately afterwards,” said Carlotta Starks, a sophomore nursing major who used the pill for medical reasons and not for contraception. “For women who use the pill to be safe it would be better to have less severe side effects and to know the truth about how their medications could harm them.”

Brown supports the idea of getting information from a more reliable source like doctors as opposed to YouTube. In order for the pill to be completely effective, women need to compare brands, ask questions and understand what will happen if they miss a dose, Brown said. He stressed that taking this sort of drug involves responsibility.

Patients need to understand that what they are taking needs to be taken properly, Brown said. He said lower strength pills are as effective, but women cannot miss a dose, unlike with a stronger pill.

“If the pill is effective and there are fewer side effects, then it is a good thing,” said Rachel Scott-Rosenbluth, a middler psychology major. “Part of the reason why I am not on the pill is because of the side effects and possibility of cancer. If studies show the medication is working if taken correctly, women should consider it. I would like to see how the 30 percent of women who got pregnant used their medication.”

University Health and Counseling Services offers confidential services to help students obtain more information about the types of birth control that work best and cause less damage to the body. Advice on other types of contraception is also offered. To schedule an appointment call (617) 373-2772.

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