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Low-Estrogen Birth Control Pills

What Are Low-Estrogen Birth Control Pills? A Doctor Explains Why They Might Be Right For You

birth control pills

With so many birth control options available for women, finding the right fit for you can be overwhelming. Should I go with an IUD? The implant? What about the dozens of birth control pills on the market? One form of birth control that has been gaining interest is low-estrogen birth control pills. With a lower dose of estrogen than other birth control pills on the market, these pills are supposed to give you shorter periods and have fewer hormonal interactions.

But is this option the right fit for you? We spoke with Lakeisha Richardson, MD, board-certified ob-gyn and paid consultant of Allergan, who broke down what exactly low-estrogen birth control is and why it might be the right fit for you.

What Are Low-Estrogen Birth Control Pills?

Combination birth control pills are oral contraceptives that contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. Birth control pills on the market range in how much estrogen is in them; they can contain 10 micrograms (mcg), 20 mcg, 25 mcg, 30 mcg, 35 mcg, or 50 mcg of daily estrogen. Dr. Richardson said combination oral contraceptives are effective for pregnancy prevention when taken correctly and consistently; that is, taken at the same time every day and not in conjunction with certain medications, including some antibiotics. There are other complications that can interfere with birth control's effectiveness, including not storing the pill properly and having a digestive disorder.

Low-estrogen birth control pills are pills that contain 10-30 mcg of daily estrogen. One example is Lo Loestrin Fe, which has 10 mcg of daily estrogen. Dr. Richardson said Lo Loestrin Fe may give women shorter, lighter periods, some as little as two days.

What Are the Side Effects of Low-Estrogen Birth Control Pills?

Even though low-estrogen pills have less estrogen than other birth control pills on the market, the side effects are similar: nausea/vomiting, headaches, spotting or bleeding between menstrual periods, weight change, breast tenderness, acne, abdominal pain, anxiety, and depression. Like other higher-dose estrogen pills, low-estrogen birth control pills can also increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack. It's best to talk to your doctor to assess your risk factors, especially if you smoke cigarettes and are over the age of 35, Dr. Richardson advised.

Who Are Low-Estrogen Birth Control Pills Good For?

It's not just the physical and potentially dangerous side effects associated with combination pills that can wreak havoc on your quality of life; there are other negative symptoms people may experience from hormonal birth control. Some of them include wild mood swings, a decreased sex drive, and heavy bleeding and cramping. Unfortunately, every person is different, so there's no way to predict how you will react to different types of hormonal birth control; it may take some trial-and-error.

"Estrogen levels affect women's bodies differently, so women should work through the option that is appropriate for them with their healthcare providers," Dr. Richardson advised. If you haven't had success on a higher-dose estrogen pill previously, a low-estrogen option may be a better fit. These pills could also be a good option for people who want shorter, lighter periods, but they may not be good for everyone; Dr. Richardson said to talk to your doctor about low-estrogen birth control if you are moderately obese.

What Should You Ask Your Doctor Before Getting on Low-Estrogen Birth Control?

OK, so you're interested in getting on low-estrogen birth control. But what comes next? You need to visit your ob-gyn and have a thorough discussion before choosing the best contraception for you. According to Dr. Richardson, be sure you ask some key questions such as:

  • Do I have any risks factors that increase my risk of complications if I use an oral contraceptive for birth control?
  • What side effects should I expect? And what should I do if I do experience side effects?
  • Will oral contraceptives interfere with any of my current medications or medical illness?
  • How soon can I start an oral contraceptive?
  • Do I have to take it at the same time every day?
  • How effective are oral contraceptives?
  • Is there anything I should or should not do while taking oral contraceptives?
  • Is there anything I can do to make oral contraceptives more effective?

Bottom line: low-estrogen birth control, such as Lo Loestrin Fe, may be a good option for you, but you need to work that out with your doctor first. Bookmark this article and come equipped to your next doctor appointment with the right knowledge and to-the-point questions to ask.

Image Source: Getty / Carol Yepes
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