Most common side effects of the combined pill

Reviewed: May 7, 2021
coming off the pill birth control
While many females take the combined pill for non-sex related reasons, one of the most popular questions asked about the contraceptive pill seems to focus around its side effects?

You might have explored the internet for the best contraceptive pill for acne, what pill helps with bleeding, searched whether the pill makes you gain weight, or whether it helps with period pain, depression or mood swings. The list is endless.

Despite there being several suggestions for specific symptoms such as acne, you have probably also worked out that there is no ‘one size fits all’ with the pill. Unfortunately, for most women, finding the right pill tends to be a sort of trial and error situation – you will have to give one a go yourself to be able to judge what is best for you.

For now, here are some of the main side effects of the pill and the side effects our reviewers reported for particular combined pill brands.

Looking for the right pill for you? Why not try The Lowdown’s Pill Recommender. Using thousands of reviews, we have collated our data to recommend the perfect combined pill for you.

Most common side effects of the pill

The combined pill is a hormonal tablet you take daily which contains hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It prevents pregnancy in three ways; by stopping ovulation, making the fluid in your cervix thicker (making it harder for sperm to get through) and by preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an embryo to grow in it.

With the combined pill, you are advised to take a seven-day break and during this break, you might have a bleed like your period. After seven days, you then start taking it again.

General side effects of the combined pill; breakthrough bleeding or spotting, breast tenderness, nausea and mood swings. These may (and should) settle down after a few months.

So what do our reviewers say? Check out general results on the combined pill.

Bleeding while on the pill?

Of course, it is expected that you have some form of period during the seven-day break from the pill but was that period heavier than usual?

Almost 50% of our reviewers reported having lighter periods on the combined pill. Around 15% of people said there was no change and 10% said their periods became heavier.

Does the combined pill cause weight gain?

Another question heavy on our minds when considering going on the pill is whether the pill will influence weight gain or loss.

According to our reviewers, 46% said there was no change to their body weight when going on the combined pill. Some 32% said they put on weight, 18% said they could not tell and under five per cent felt they lost weight.

Does Yasmin cause weight gain? Does Levest cause weight gain or Rigevidon? It just depends on how your body will react to it and while most pills tend to not cause weight gain themselves, they can affect your appetite which could then cause your weight to fluctuate higher or lower.

Moods?

Since its invention, there have been many studies and arguments to say that the contraceptive pill causes severe mood swings in females and in some cases, depression. However, while it can negatively affect moods, some females are prescribed it to improve mental health, specifically PMS or PMDD.

Science has yet to prove a definitive link between hormonal contraception and mood – but The Lowdown data suggests that so much more research needs to be done into this area. This data also shows why it’s so important for women to take the time to find the right method for them.

The Lowdown findings show that almost half of women had trouble trying to find a method of contraception that suited them, and 78% of women have experienced unwanted side effects from their contraception. It’s worth persevering; for many of us, contraception is an absolute necessity and something that we use for decades.

Reviewers said the combined pill in general, somewhat negatively affected their mood, with 35% reporting so. Meanwhile, 24% said it very negatively affected their mood, 23% said no change and 8% couldn’t tell.

Five per cent said impacted them somewhat positively and fewer than that (2%) said it very positively affected them.

Sex drive?

The answer we have all been waiting for: will the combined pill affect my sex drive? The results are in; 47% of reviewers said they felt a loss of sex drive on the combined pill and 32% reported no change.

A solid 15% said they could not tell and six per cent reported an increase in their sex drive.

What are my options?

Of course, these statistics are side effects of the combined pill in general, with no tie to a specific brand. When deciding what combined pill to go on, there are many strands you can choose from and your GP is most likely to prescribe one for you (unless you ask).

Thanks to our many reviews on The Lowdown submitted from people like yourself, we hope that you will be able to make a more informed decision on which people to go on. Delving into the reviews, there are hundreds to read from on different brands of the combined pill.

So, where do we start? According to Lloyds Pharmacy, the most common brands of the combined contraceptive pill are Microgynon, Cilest, Rigevidon and so let’s begin there. Read on for more detailed reviews of the combined pill

Microygynon

“Been on this pill for a month now. It’s the only contraception that agrees with me. I was on the implant before and hated it and it caused a lot of irregular periods and spotting however since being on this method I have had no problems apart from getting headaches and slight nausea every month when my period is due. My mood has remained the same I have had no problems with depression – it has been an advantage for me. Before when I wasn’t on any type of pill I would suffer with terrible periods every month with big blood clots and I would change a tampon or a pad every two hours and the cramps were horrendous. This pill has helped me manage my heavy periods and made my periods shorter and lighter which is very welcomed.”

“I had horrible headaches and felt angry and irritable all the time, didn’t realise how bad I felt until I stopped taking it.”

Cilest

“Why, why, why has this been discontinued. This was a really good pill for me. Good mood, light periods, never gained or lost weight, clear skin… The list goes on! The only thing that I found was when I came off it (after 9 years) I noticed my sex drive was a little higher so it must have been decreased whilst on Cilest. But saying that, I’ve always had a healthy and regular sex life so I think it only decreased it a tiny amount, not enough to notice in 9 years anyway! Now I’m really struggling trying all these other pills, each for SIX MONTHS AT A TIME (Dr’s recommendation) and experiencing at least one problem with each of them. Spotting, depression, weight gain, acne. The other forms of contraception just don’t sound right for me but I might have to start trying them as well.”

“I changed to this pill from Microgynon and as soon as I changed I noticed a huge change in my mental health, feeling extremely anxious and emotional. Stopped my periods but instead, spotting most days which is extremely annoying. I wouldn’t recommend this pill.”

Rigevidon

“This is the one and only contraceptive I have been on and have experienced no side effects apart from possible increased sweating (more overheating easily in the week leading up to my period) overall my experience has been very positive and made my periods significantly lighter and took away the dizziness/intensely painful cramps which is why I originally started taking the pill at 15.”

“Originally started the pill for bad skin/heavy periods and have stayed on the same form of contraception for 10+years. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and have a laparoscopy to remove but since then things are worse and don’t really know what my options are as all the options have their negatives so it feels like choosing the best of a bad bunch!”

Yasmin

“I used Yasmin for over about 8 years (now on a different combined pill), and really don’t have any complaints. It doesn’t seem to mess with my mood but helps with my naturally heavy, long and painful periods. I like the predictability as well, and that it’s possible to “skip” the period if needed. I’ve tried to continue taking the pill without a week break but it didn’t seem to work well (spotting started towards the end of the 2nd “cycle”). Had no problems getting pregnant (twice) after stopping the pill.”

“It’s supposed to help acne, I went on it and my acne worsened for the 2 months i was on it. the reason I came off it was that my period was 42 days long, I started the pill when my period started and my period just kept coming which after a while got very inconvenient!”

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

Why not leave us a review of your contraceptive experience? Whether you’ve got good things to say about the Mirena coil or had trouble with implant removal, we want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and help people around the world find the right method for them.