‘The pill’: How young is too young?

‘The pill’: How young is too young?

Oral contraceptives are a popular choice among women of all ages – and for more reasons than you may think.

A 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute reported that 58 percent of the over 11 million U.S. women holding prescriptions for oral contraception, commonly known as “the pill,” use the medication for more than just pregnancy prevention. These individuals include a growing number of teens and girls as young as 11 years old who are turning to birth control for benefits unrelated to sexual activity, including the treatment of acne and regulation and moderation of menstrual periods.

“All hormonal birth control methods, including the pill, have the potential to make periods lighter, less painful or more predictable,” says Dr. Tova Appleson, a pediatric hospitalist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. “Pills containing both estrogen and progestin, called combined oral contraceptive pills, can be very helpful in treating acne symptoms, as well.”

While some parents and teens are embracing this option, others have their doubts. Many question whether beginning contraceptives at such a young age may result in irresponsible sexual behavior or even pose a risk to the individual’s health.

“Providing contraception to adolescents does not result in increased rates of sexual activity, earlier age of intercourse or greater number of partners, but I encourage parents to talk to their adolescents about sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases and safe sex practices if they are considering contraceptives,” Dr. Appleson says. “An open dialogue can ensure the adolescent feels well informed about the medication they are using.”

As for any health risks, Dr. Appleson explains that while the decision to begin using a contraceptive is a personal or family choice, birth control pills can be a relatively safe option for women throughout reproductive years, with no increased risk due to young age. However, other options are available.

“Making an appointment with a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine can be helpful, especially if you create a symptom diary or tracker to bring to the appointment,” Dr. Appleson says. “Acne can be treated in a variety of ways, many of which are non-hormonal, and painful periods may be easily managed by taking ibuprofen.”

The birth control pill is just one of many options teens and young girls have in addressing the negative side effects of hormone imbalances and menstruation. While menstrual discomfort and irregularity and uncontrollable acne may subside as adolescents grow older, it may be helpful or even necessary to address such symptoms sooner than later in order to improve focus, self-esteem and overall quality of life. Talk to your pediatrician or gynecologist to learn what option(s) are best for you or your daughter.

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  1. “…and painful periods may be easily managed by taking ibuprofen.”

    LOL. People are worried about side effects, so you recommend the pain reliever most connected to bleeding ulcers and other G-I damage???

    Anyway, no, ibuprofen does not “easily” manage painful periods, unless you take bottlesful, in which case, see above.

  2. I totally agree with Dienne. The ibuprofen helps my daughter with her cramps, but I really don’t like her taking it, particularly on an empty stomach (which is always the case when she’s at school). From what I’ve read, the pill can actually decrease your risk for ovarian cancer (but may increase it for breast cancer). Taking medication of any type has to be thorougly considered, no matter how seemingly benign it seems.

  3. Hi Katie. I have a niece in teenager which facing all hormonal birth control. The big problem with hormone is acne which my niece is facing the stubborn acne problem. I worry about taking the pill to relive acne. So, I recommended her to use http://www.womensedge.org/best-acne-treatment-for-teens/. I think it would be safe effects because they are external medicine. I’m not sure about the pill inside effect. Could you give me suggestion about the pill and external medicine for acne? Thank you in advance for your suggestions.

  4. Ibuprofen never did a DANG thing for my cramps, though it did give me a nasty ulcer it took YEARS to diagnose. I’d much rather my niece get a nuvaring or something similar. She shouldn’t have to compromise her health because of painful, irregular cramps.

  5. I have 2 girls with horrible periods. The eldest bled through the pads even with a tampons. The Headaches and cramps were moderate but it kept her out of school and activities at least one day every month. Finally after listening to a story on Doctors radio, we put her on the pill at age 15. Now our youngest is 12 y/o she has debilitating Abdominal pain/cramps & Headaches for at least 2 day. She is curled up in the fetal position, ibuprofen and midol only provide minimum relief. As soon as she reaches the 2 year mark of having regular periods she will be on the pill. Women and girls should not bleed to the point of anemia or accept a life of pain because they are female. My periods were normal which is why it took me so long with our eldest, I fell back in the old tradition of its life suck it up and move on. But not anymore too many of us ignore our pain and discomfort as natural when it is not! Let’s be kinder to our kids!

About the Author

Katie Helander
Katie Helander

Katie Helander, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She is currently pursuing her BA in public relations and minors in international communication and Spanish at Illinois State University, where she also serves as the Chapter President of the Public Relations Student Society of America. In her free time, Katie enjoys theatre, traveling, working out, and learning new things. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in international relations or with a major public relations agency.