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The Pill - Just the Facts - Birth Control Pills - Oral Contraceptives

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Updated June 11, 2014

Woman holding contraceptive pills
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Do birth control pills cause weight gain? Should women take occasional breaks from oral contraceptives?

While the majority of women who participated in a nationwide survey of women aged 18 to 35 believe the answer to these questions is "yes," the fact is that the answer to both of these questions is "no." These are some of the myths that affect how millions of American women think about and use birth control pills.

"It's very important for women to be educated about the birth control pill so that they are able to base their contraceptive decisions on facts, not myths and misinformation," said A. George Thomas, clinical associate professor, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City. "After 40 years of use, we take for granted that women are fully informed about the Pill, but I find that many of my patients are not. The survey results confirm that we need to do a better job educating women."

Does the Pill protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases?

No. The Pill offers no protection against any type of sexually transmitted diseases, and women need to keep this fact in mind when using oral contraceptives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among sexually active women, the only way to reduce the risk of HIV or other STDs is through the "consistent and correct use of latex condoms." Consistent and correct use of condoms can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting most STDs, including HIV infection.

Is the Pill an effective treatment for acne?

Only one birth control pill is FDA-approved for the treatment of moderate acne. That pill is Ortho Tri-cyclen. In addition to being an effective contraceptive, it is also an effective treatment for moderate acne in female patients age 15 or older and who have no known contraindications to oral contraceptive therapy, desire contraception, have achieved menstruation and are unresponsive to topical anti-acne medications.

The Survey

Survey Finding:: Sixty-one percent of women surveyed believe the Pill causes weight gain.

Fact: Not all birth control pills cause weight gain. An equal number of women tend to gain weight as lose weight while taking a birth control pill. In clinical studies of Ortho Tri-cyclen, women reported no more weight gain than women who were taking inactive pills. Women concerned about weight gain should talk with their healthcare professionals.

Survey Finding: Almost half of survey respondents believe women need to take a break from using the Pill.

Fact:: Women don't need a break from the Pill. "Today, more women are using the Pill and staying on it longer," said Dr. Thomas. "And, research shows that women do not need to take a break from the Pill." Healthcare professionals can prescribe birth control pills to healthy, nonsmoking women over 40. But, how long a woman stays on the Pill is something she should discuss with her healthcare professional.

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