How safe is it to use birth control pills?

There are 2 different types of birth control pill: the combined pill and the progestogen only pill (sometimes called the “mini pill”).

Like with all medicines, there are some risks to taking the pill but these are rare and the benefits of taking the pill outweigh the risks.

Taking the combined pill raises a person’s risk of developing a blood clot. In rare cases, this can lead to a deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the leg), a blood clot in the lung, a stroke, or a heart attack.

Although this is rare, for this reason a person may be advised to use another method of contraception if they are over 35, current smokers or have recently given up smoking, if they are overweight, suffer from migraines, have high blood pressure, are often immobile (for example because they use a wheelchair) or if they have a family history of blood clot or stroke.

Research suggests a link between taking the combined pill and a small increase in risk of developing some types of cancer (breast cancer, cervical cancer and a rare form of liver cancer). However the pill is also known to reduce the risk of developing other types of cancer (womb cancer, ovarian cancer and colon cancer).

Taking the progesterone only pill raises a person’s risk of developing ovarian cysts. These are not dangerous and often disappear on their own but some people may experience pelvic pain.

Some research has suggested a link between taking the progesterone only pill and developing breast cancer. However, there is not enough evidence to show a clear link and it is thought that any increase in risk is only seen among those who have a family history of breast cancer.

Helen Burkitt, Senior Sexual Health Nurse at SH:24
Written by Helen Burkitt. Senior Sexual Health and Contraception Nurse

Last updated at: 10 March 2022