Will antibiotics affect my birth control?

I’m taking antibiotics for a sinus infection. Do I have to use a backup method with my birth control pills?

Great question! There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the way that antibiotics affect hormonal birth control. The package inserts in some packs of pills even contain a warning about antibiotics. Take a deep breath, though—at least, as much as you can through your blocked sinuses! Research shows that most antibiotics have no effect on how well your birth control protects against pregnancy.

There IS one type of antibiotic that impacts your pill. Rifampin, which is sometimes used to treat tuberculosis, changes how your liver processes the hormones in combined hormonal birth control. This makes it less effective. It’s possible that this info somehow got jumbled up and generalized to all antibiotics.

Be cautious, though. Common (and unpleasant) side effects of antibiotics like vomiting and diarrhea CAN influence how your body absorbs the hormones in birth control. If you’re experiencing these side effects while taking your pills, ask your healthcare provider if you need to use a backup method.

Just a quick note on doubling up.

It is ALWAYS a great idea to back up your birth control with a barrier method like condoms. No method of birth control is 100% effective. With typical use, almost 1 in 10 people using the pill will become pregnant in a year. Using condoms with another birth control method (like the pill) can help reduce chances of a birth control mishap. In addition, condoms (external and internal) are the only birth control methods that also protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In general, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor when taking any kind of medication, whether it is prescribed, over the counter, or picked up at your local health food store.

St. John’s Wort, for example, is a common herbal supplement used to boost mood that DOES decrease the effectiveness of birth control. Always make sure to tell your health care provider about everything you’re taking. There are a few drugs that do sneakily mess with your birth control, and it’s essential to keep your health care provider in the loop.

If you have more questions about birth control or sexual health (or just need some help with that sinus infection!) and are 10-22 years old in NYC, stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential, comprehensive health care.

A version of this post was originally published in June, 2016.


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