Volume 94, Issue 4

Friday, June 9, 2000


Misconceptions about the pill

The pill: Redefining modern society

Misconceptions about the pill

By Stephanie Croft and Lori Seymour
Gazette Writers

Statistics show that eighty per cent of women born since 1945, have been on the birth control pill at one time or another.

With dozens of different types of oral contraceptives on the market and dozens of different side effects, how does a woman know which pill is right for her? How do you know you are getting all the information and the right information on the pill?

"I'd really like to know why doctors prescribe the type of pill that they do," said Karen Humphreys, a 25 year old veterinarian's assistant from Toronto. Humphreys said she is currently taking the birth control pill and plans to stay on it.

"I've been on a lot of different kinds, depending on which doctor I go to and I always just take the one that they prescribe," she said. "But now I wonder, do [the doctors] prescribe it because they are in with a particular drug company, or do they just have favorites? Or does it actually have something to do with my medical history or health?" Humphreys asked.

When prescribing appropriate birth control to an individual, Bonnie Wright, a registered nurse and clinic manager of the Middlesex London Health Unit, described the processes doctors undertake.

"Doctors do a careful assessment of signs and symptoms of menstrual cycles and of the patient's hormonal levels," Wright explained. "They try to match the pill so side effects are eliminated. If a woman has normal periods, then she is started off on a more common pill and then we go from there."

Tammy Vansevenant, a registered nurse in Forest, said when prescribing a specific brand of the pill, doctors are most likely influenced by what was taught to them at the medical school.

"Doctors probably follow the lead of another physician," Vansevenant said. "A lot of doctors go with free samples too. But mainly it's through trial and error; the more success patients have with a certain brand, the more likely the doctor will stick with that one," she added.

Side effects of the birth control pill can include anything from migraines, spotting, elevated blood pressure and depression, to exhaustion, acne, weight gain or loss and general irritability.

"You want to disclose the side effects to people but you don't want to scare the life out of folks," Wright said. She also noted while most side effects are rare, careful assessment of a patient's health and history can avoid complications.

"The last time I went on it, I gained 15 pounds and two [bra] cup sizes," said Adriane Villeneuve, a 24 year old dancer from Toronto. Villeneuve said she hated the pill and would take it again.

"My dance teacher was after me for gaining weight, saying I would never get any auditions if I didn't lose it. But no matter how hard I tried, the weight stayed on," she stated. "I was having these weird hot flashes and was so tired all the time. I don't know if that was from the pill, but once I went off of it, I lost the weight and I felt normal again."

Altaf Jiwaji, a pharmacist in the University Community Centre's Western on Campus Pharmacy, said if women do suffer unwanted side effects, there are not many options left.

"You really only have three options if you're experiencing side effects," Jiwaji said. "Go to a different pill, go off the pill or use a different form of birth control."

Villeneuve, who has suffered from side effects, said the convenience of the pill was a huge factor.

"I've never liked the pill, but I kept going back on it because it was so easy," she lamented. "That's what's so frustrating about it. But what else can you use that's that easy?"

"I just went to the doctor and said I want to go on the pill," Villeneuve explained. "And he said OK, here's a prescription for a year. We didn't discuss anything that could happen."

Vansevenant said because most women who take the pill for the first time are between the ages of 13 and 21, most are less likely to seek out accurate information. "A young woman contemplating taking the pill would probably approach a friend, who's not the most knowledgeable," she said.

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