Drugs That Cause Birth Control to Fail

Many women use birth control to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Whether you use the pill, patch, shot or other type of birth control, combining them with certain types of medications can cause your birth control hormones to be less effective.

In many instances, it can cause them to stop working completely. Among the many types of contraceptives, birth control (pill, patch, ring or shot) works by regulating the hormones in the body, thus preventing ovulation and conception.

Myths abound as to which medicines interfere with birth control, one of the more popular being that antibiotics lessen effectiveness. With a few exceptions, this is simply untrue. However, what is true enough is that many common medicines prescribed for a range of medical issues can cause hormonal birth control to stop working. Understanding what those medicines are and what options exist when you find yourself having to utilize those medicines is crucial to every woman’s health and wellbeing. The following can help you build a list of those medications you should take extra precaution with if you must take them.

Birth Control and Antibiotics

Most commonly prescribed antibiotics do not interfere with birth control hormones. This includes tetracycline or doxycycline usually prescribed for women with acne, or the ampicillin many take when they have a bad cold. Ciprofloxacin for a bladder infection or meds prescribed for a yeast infection are also not among any of the antibiotics that could make your contraceptive fail.

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However, you will still hear anecdotal evidence from someone who became pregnant after taking antibiotics for some illness. Still, doctors state that in these cases it was more a case of the patient being so ill the hormone in the birth control was not able to be absorbed normally, or a dose was missed because of the illness.

Some antibiotics, such as rifampin (also known as rifabutin) may react with birth control medication. However, these antibiotics are seldom prescribed. If you have questions about an antibiotic interacting with your birth control, just talk about it with a doctor.

Birth Control and Mental Health Drugs

Unlike antibiotics, many mental health drugs may interact with birth control medications. If you are taking anti-seizure drugs, such as those prescribed for epilepsy, then it may make all hormonal birth control less effective.

Additionally, drugs issued by doctors to patients for the control of bipolar disorder can also interfere with birth control. In fact, the birth control itself may interfere with the mental health drugs you may be taking, lessening their effectiveness too.

Make sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking when talking about new drugs.  Some of the most common mental health drugs that interact with birth control include:

  • Carbamazepine.
  • Barbiturates.
  • Oxcarbazepine.
  • Topiramate.
  • Primidone.
  • Phenytoin.
  • Lamotrigine.
  • Felbamate.

Birth Control and Antiretroviral Drugs

If you are taking drugs to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), be aware that these drugs reduce the amount of hormones present in your blood. This makes your birth control pill less effective. More serious still, when taken in combination, they can cause a thromboembolism, which is when a blood clot becomes free floating and clogs a blood vessel somewhere in the body.

However, there are HIV meds that can be combined with birth control bills. Tenofovir is one such “safe” drug to take with birth control hormones. If you are taking birth control hormones, talk to your doctor, especially if you are currently taking:

  • Fosamprenavir.
  • Tipranavir.
  • Lopinavir.
  • Darunavir.

Birth Control Hormones and Herbal Supplements

You may not know it, but some herbal supplements can also make your birth control not work well. If you’re into naturopathy and have good success with using herbal supplements for various ailments, keep in mind they could be interfering with your body’s ability to absorb the contraceptive hormones.

One of the main culprits is St. John’s wort, which many take for low-grade insomnia, anxiety disorders or depression. Studies have found the active ingredients in St. John’s wort lowers the concentration of the active components in your birth control pill by 15 percent, which means you could get pregnant and may have breakthrough bleeding.

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Other herbal medications you should consider switching out include saw palmetto, which is often used for hair loss. Garlic pills are often taken to reduce high blood pressure or for heart health. Seemingly benign alfalfa and flaxseeds may also interfere with birth control hormones. If you are currently taking any of these herbal supplements, try switching over to another supplement offering the same benefits but that does not interfere with your birth control.

Birth Control and Antifungal Medications

If you develop a case of athlete’s foot or have another fungal infection that is not responding to other treatment, you doctor may place you on Extina, Xolegel or Nizoral. All of these can interfere with your birth control. The chances of it interfering is quite low, but there have been instances of accidental pregnancy while using them, so it is best to use alternate forms of contraception while you are taking these drugs.

Sleep Disorders and Your Birth Control Hormone

If you have been given a drug to help with a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, it could interfere with your birth control. If you are only on modafinil (brand name Provigil) for a short while, just use an alternative until you are finished with the dosage. If you are going to be on it long term, then you may want to explore other types of birth control options, as the hormones will not be effective in your body’s system.

Why do so many drugs interfere with birth control?

Most of the prescribed medications interfering with hormonal contraceptives do so because of the body’s metabolism. The body has a layered process that any substance must go through in order to be broken down and used before being expelled. Some medications speed up this work, causing your birth control hormones to leave your system before your body can fully absorb them. This may be one reason why many of these drugs affect popular birth control medication.

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