The Best Types of Birth Control to Ease Your Most Annoying PMS Symptoms

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As important of a topic as birth control is, it can be daunting. Truth be told, we've still found there to be a lack of transparent, accurate, and, frankly, trustworthy dialogue on the subject. (Something we're working to change here at The/Thirty!) There are issues of limited access, problematic assumptions, and complicated (or blatantly incorrect) messaging surrounding birth control in addition to an inundation of options and methods. Woof. Altogether, this macro-brew of factors can spell a recipe for a thunderstorm of confusion and frustration—especially if you're considering birth control for symptoms other than (or in addition to) prevented pregnancy. 

Of course, if you're considering going on (or off!) birth control for any reason, we recommend talking to your a trusted ob-gyn first and foremost. They know you on an emotional and physical level and will help you make the best choice for you. The age-old phrase "information is power" may be a cliché, but it's also pertinent. That said, if you're looking for some basic guidance and supplemental information to serve as a springboard for that in-office appointment, we reached out to Harpreet Brar, MD FACOG, board-certified ob-gyn at DMC Hutzel Women’s Hospital, to help answer a few of our burning questions. In particular, which types of birth control might be best if we're looking to treat or ease other hormonal/PMS-related symptoms like cramps, mood swings, acne, heavy periods, and the like. Keep scrolling to learn more. 

First, A Note on Process

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You already know that prescribing birth control isn't like prescribing an antibiotic. There are so many factors involved that must address your goals and reasoning for taking the pill, yes, but your mental and physical environment as well. Since birth control will manipulate hormones, it won't be a black-and-white, this-or-that process with your doctor.

"When a patient decides to initiate a contraception method during a checkup, their gynecologist/healthcare provider will begin with a complete history and a focused physical exam," explains Brar. "Things to consider when choosing a particular method of birth control involve the patient’s medical and family history, including medical problems that may preclude a patient from being an ideal candidate for a particular method of birth control."

Additionally, she tells us, your gyno will take careful note of any medications you're taking that could interfere with the efficacy of certain birth control methods, your social history, future contraception plans, lifestyle factors (like whether you smoke), plus our primary focus for this piece: the non-contraception benefits of hormonal contraception a patient may desire—e.g., eased cramping, fewer breakouts, or less-intense mood swings.

"There are many non-contraceptive benefits to birth control," Brar confirms. "Hormonal contraception can be used to treat a variety of symptoms such as an irregular menstrual cycle, breakouts, heavy menstrual flow, painful cycles, and more. Studies have shown that estrogen- and progestin-containing birth control pills may also lower a woman's lifetime risk of developing some kinds of ovarian cancers, and the longer the woman is on the pill, the lower the risk of developing certain ovarian cancers could be."

The Best Birth Control for Cramps

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"Women with heavy cramps can actually use a variety of birth control methods to help decrease their cramping," Brar shares. "Oral combined estrogen and progestin birth control pills with high progestin potency are an option, and other methods such as the Levonorgestrel IUD and medroxyprogesterone acetate injection—aka the shot—also work well to decrease the intensity of menstrual cramps." This, she explains, is partially due to their ability to help decrease your menstrual cycle flow and/or duration of your bleed. 

The Best Birth Control for Acne

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According to Brar, if a patient doesn't have any other contraindications that need to be considered, she'll typically recommend a birth control pill that combines estrogen and progestin. (Elevated testosterone or too-low estrogen can exacerbate the potential for cyclical and stubborn breakouts.) Because of this, a pill with a higher estrogen component and a lower androgen [think male hormone] component is usually best for curbing persistent acne. 

The Best Birth Control for Mood Swings & Other PMS Symptoms

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"There are many non-contraceptive benefits to birth control, including treatment of PMS and mood swings," says Brar. "Many women are sensitive to the hormonal changes that occur with menstruation. Again, combined estrogen and progestin oral birth control pills, often taken continuously [without placebos] can help to stabilize mood by decreasing hormonal fluctuations."

Will Recommendations Change Depending on Sexual Activity? 

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"If a patient is using birth control for its contraceptive benefits as well, the recommendation for the optimal method of birth control may vary," Brar points out. "The efficacy fluctuates with different types of contraception, and long-acting methods such as an IUD or an Etonogestrel implant are generally the most efficacious means of preventing pregnancy." 

Brar points out that a patient's future plans for trying to conceive should also be taken into account when selecting the optimal birth control regardless of your reasoning. And as another helpful reminder, women who are sexually active should also be using a barrier method of contraception such as a male or female condom to help protect against sexually transmitted infections. 

Next up: The 7 Best Foods to Eat for a Happier Period—and 6 to Avoid

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