What to know about cramps on birth control
For most people, cramps on birth control are temporary. People with severe or prolonged cramps may need to visit a doctor. The doctor can check for any underlying medical conditions and offer advice on switching to another method of birth control.
Can you still get cramps on birth control?
Birth control pills may not completely eliminate cramps.
Cramps are not uncommon in people taking birth control pills.
In fact, people who get severe symptoms during or around menstruation, often use birth control pills to relieve painful menstrual cramps. The pills may reduce the level of hormones called prostaglandins, which may influence the severity of cramps.
A recent study in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women taking birth control pills, either continually or cyclically, were less likely to experience their typical menstrual pain.
However, when a person first starts a new birth control method, it may take some time for the body to adjust to these hormones. As the body adapts, many people temporarily experience symptoms similar to those of their period.
Also, if a person forgets to take their birth control pill, or takes it at the wrong time, hormone levels can change quickly and cause symptoms such as cramping, spotting, and bleeding.
Some people may experience cramps on birth control due to switching the type of birth control they are using.
Switching from a non-hormonal birth control method, such as a copper intrauterine device (IUD), to a hormonal method may cause symptoms as the body adjusts.
Even changes between hormonal methods may cause temporary imbalances. For instance, some hormonal birth control methods contain both estrogen and synthetic progesterone. Others, such as the minipill, include only synthetic progesterone.
Some birth control methods are more likely than others to cause cramps. While hormonal methods often reduce cramping, doctors usually avoid prescribing copper IUDs to people with heavy or painful periods, as their symptoms may get worse.
Working with a doctor can help a person select the most effective birth control method that does not cause additional cramps.
Other side effects of birth control
Headaches are a potential side effect of birth control.
The side effects of birth control may be more pronounced during the first few months of use.
In addition to cramps, possible side effects include:
- irregular periods
- headaches or migraines
- nausea and stomach pain
- changes in sex drive
- weight changes
- breast pain and tenderness
- enlarged breast tissue
- missed periods
- mood swings or irritability
Serious side effects are possible but uncommon. These can include blood clots if the birth control contains estrogen.
People who have a family history of blood clots or who have had blood clots in the past need to be especially careful.
People who have migraines with visual symptoms, or aura, may also have an increased risk of blood clots and stroke when taking pills that contain estrogen.
Other severe side effects may include acute pains in the body, and vision or speech problems. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Causes of cramps
During a period, the uterus contracts to help shed the uterine lining, pushing the tissue and blood out of the body. These contractions cause cramps and pain.
While people experience cramps differently, for many they will feel like throbbing pains and tightness in the lower abdomen and pelvis. Cramps can also radiate to the upper legs and back.
Cramps usually begin a couple of days before bleeding starts and continue through the first few days of the period when the flow is heaviest.
Severe cramps may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as:
People with severe cramps, or cramps that continue throughout the month, should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Stretching and exercise may help to ease cramps.
In many cases, doctors prescribe birth control pills to help reduce menstrual pain. If a person is experiencing symptoms from a specific type of birth control, a doctor may recommend trying another type.
A few home remedies may also help people find relief from cramps, including:
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
- placing a heating pad or electric blanket on the lower abdomen or lower back
- lying down or resting
- taking a warm bath
If a new birth control method makes cramps worse, or cramping does not ease within several months of introducing it, a person may want to consider another method or speak to their doctor about possible underlying conditions.
When to see a doctor
In most cases, taking birth control pills will help to reduce cramps. Cramping when starting a new birth control pill or taking the pill at the wrong time is perfectly normal.
Anyone with severe symptoms or symptoms that persist for more than the length of the menstrual period should speak to a doctor. A doctor may recommend a different type of birth control or carry out medical tests to diagnose any underlying medical conditions.
Anyone with sudden, severe symptoms should seek immediate medical care. These include severe cramping or pain along with dizziness, nausea, or fever. Such symptoms could indicate serious complications, such as an ectopic pregnancy or ruptured cyst.