Oral Contraceptives: List of Intestinal Side-Effects

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Overview of Oral Contraceptives

There are several options women can choose from in order not to get pregnant. Popularly used by many women are oral contraceptive pills (OCP). These often come in packs of 28 pills or 21 pills, and must be taken once a day. The pills contain synthetic progesterone and estrogen, and are more than 90% effective in stopping ovulation. It also effects thickening of the cervical mucus, thus preventing sperms from easily reaching the uterus.

While many women are able to tolerate using oral contraceptives, some women have experienced mild to severe side-effects from using them. The most common side-effects seen when using oral contraceptives are associated with the hormonal changes that occur in the body while using the pill. These include breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, skin pigmentation, vision changes, mood variations and weight gain. There are also digestive problems encountered by a few women. Here is a list of intestinal problems caused by oral contraceptives. Most of these side-effects may vary in severity between the different brands.

Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is one of the frequent complaints of women taking oral contraceptives. When severe abdominal pain, or severe nausea, vomiting and appetite loss, are experienced, women are advised to seek immediate medical attention.


Gastroenteritis is a condition where there is inflammation in the stomach and intestines. Aside from oral contraceptives, it can also be due to infection with viruses, parasites and bacteria. The most common manifestation of gastrointeritis is diarrhea.

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia

When veins and arteries in the intestines become incapable of circulating blood to the intestine, acute mesenteric ischemia may result. Acute mesenteric ischemia has four types, and one type known as mesenteric venous thrombosis (MVT), is associated with oral contraceptives use. OCP use may increase the risk of developing blood clots in the circulation, a condition known as hypercoagulable state. When this happens, blood clot formation can occur in the venous system of the small and large intestines and lead to MVT.

Ischemic Colitis

Ischemic colitis occurs due to the death of cells and tissues of the intestines due to limited blood flow to the area. It is associated with amyloidosis, rheumatoid arthritis and use of oral contraceptives.

Liver Involvement

Although not an intestinal problem, side-effects of oral contraceptives to the liver are worth mentioning as the liver is also part of the gastrointestinal tract. The liver plays an important role in the metabolism of any drug, thus it is sometimes inevitable that liver problems can occur. Signs of liver problems that women taking oral contraceptives must watch out for are jaundice or yellowing of the skin, pain in the upper right abdomen, and presence of darkened urine.


MedTV: Oral Contraceptives Side Effects

emedicine: Acute Mesenteric Ischemia

PathConsult: Ischemic Colitis

Pub Med Central: Oral Contraceptives and Liver Disease