Hormones, Halos, and Headaches: The Truth About Birth Control Side Effects

Woman holding her head in discomfort, symbolising the experience of aura migraines
Photo by Abigail Keenan / Unsplash

Let's talk about something that affects millions of people worldwide: birth control pills. These tiny tablets have become the go-to choice for many who wish to take charge of their reproductive health. However, like any medication, birth control pills come with potential side effects that we need to be aware of.

One of the most common (and most debilitating) symptoms is migraines. We’re going to break down what they are, the relationship with birth control, risk factors, and what options you have so you can make an informed birth control choice.

What are Aura Migraines?
Unlike regular migraines, which are characterised by throbbing headaches and sensitivity to light and sound, aura migraines come with unique sensory symptoms that can happen before or during a migraine. During an aura, one may experience visual disturbances, such as flashes of light, blind spots, or even temporary loss of vision. These symptoms typically last for about five minutes to an hour, paving the way for the onset of a migraine headache.

The Connection with Birth Control Pills
Research suggests that certain types of birth control pills can increase the risk of aura migraines in susceptible individuals. “Medical professionals generally advise women who experience migraine with aura not to use the combined contraceptive pill.” The culprit here is oestrogen, one of the key hormones found in many oral contraceptives. While oestrogen can help regulate the menstrual cycle and provide a host of other benefits, it can also affect blood vessels in the brain, triggering aura migraines in some people who menstruate.

The Risk Factors
Not all people who take birth control pills will experience aura migraines, but it's important to be aware of the risk factors. If you have a history of migraines with aura or a family history of these migraines, you may be more prone to developing them while on birth control pills. Additionally, smoking and being over the age of 35 can further elevate the risk.

Navigating the Options
Fear not, for there are still numerous birth control options available for those who experience aura migraines or are at an increased risk. One potential solution is to opt for progesterone-only contraceptives, such as the mini-pill, hormonal IUDs, non-hormonal IUDs, or the implant. These methods contain only progesterone and do not contain oestrogen, making them a safer alternative for those prone to aura migraines. Consult with your healthcare provider to explore the best option for you.

Empowering Yourself
Knowledge is the ultimate accessory, and understanding the connection between aura migraines and birth control pills puts you in the driver's seat of your reproductive health. If you experience aura migraines while on birth control pills, it's crucial to discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider promptly. Together, you can determine the best course of action, ensuring that you have access to effective birth control while minimising the risk of aura migraines.

Knowledge is power. Speak up for yourself. Ask about the pros and cons. Make decisions that are best for your unique self!