‘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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