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New Study Eases Fear of Birth Control Side Effects

by Lisa René LeClair

Photograph by Twenty20

Women have multiple options when it comes to birth control. From condoms, IUDs, foams, jellies and sponges to hormone-releasing implants, the list of ways to dodge pregnancy is plentiful.

About 37 million women in the United States are using some form of contraception. Yet those who rely on hormonal birth control often worry about possible side effects. In an announcement earlier this week, Dr. Brett Worly, lead author of a new study and OB-GYN at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, hopes to set those worried minds at ease.

The study's conclusion: There was not enough evidence to establish a link between hormonal birth control and depression.

"Based on our findings, this side effect shouldn't be a concern for most women, and they should feel comfortable knowing they're making a safe choice," Worly said.

The analysis included thousands of studies on the mental health effects of contraceptives, along with data tied to various contraception methods, including injections, implants and pills. Researchers also looked at studies that examined the effects of hormonal birth control on postpartum women, adolescents and women with a history of depression.

"Adolescents and pregnant moms will sometimes have a higher risk of depression, not necessarily because of the medicine they're taking, but because they have that risk to start with," said Worly. "For those patients, it's important that they have a good relationship with their healthcare provider so they can get the appropriate screening done—regardless of the medications they're on."

Though patients' concerns are valid, Worly wants women to continue having open and honest discussions with their doctor about which options are best.

"We live in a media-savvy age where if one or a few people have severe side effects, all of a sudden, that gets amplified to every single person," he said. "The biggest misconception is that birth control leads to depression. For most patients, that's just not the case."

Despite the study's conclusions, Worly does not believe this should be "the end of the discussion."

After comparing these new findings with a larger study from 2016 that contradicted his work, Worly told CNN, "We need much more quality research. We need large randomized controlled trials of the highest scientific value. Those cost lots of resources and money, but we need to get those resources and do those type of studies."

In the end, choosing the right birth control is a personal decision. Medication affects everyone differently. If you’re interested in taking hormonal birth control but are concerned about side effects, it’s best to talk to your doctor.

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