Is It Bad To Smoke While Taking Birth Control?

The warnings that come with birth control pills can feel ominous — from blood clots to stroke, it can be hard to know your level of risk when taking the pills. But if you smoke cigarettes, does your risk increase?

Birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, contain the hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy (via Cleveland Clinic). Some pills are combination pills, containing both hormones, and some only contain progestin, known as the "minipill." These pills work by preventing ovulation so an egg is not released. They also thicken cervical mucus to keep sperm out of the uterus and thin the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg cannot implant and develop. While the pill is primarily used to prevent pregnancy, it's also useful for regulating menstruation, managing menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and treating endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Only a small percentage of women will have increased risks while on the combination pill. These risks include blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, high blood pressure, or stroke.

The dangers of combining nicotine and estrogen

Smoking tobacco products is bad for health in general, damaging practically every organ in the body (via American Cancer Society). Not only can smoking cause cancer, but it also increases your risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and tuberculosis.

When nicotine, the chemical in tobacco, is mixed with estrogen, the combination can be especially dangerous, according to Women's Care. Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and the added estrogen in the body from birth control pills puts more stress on the blood vessels. This increases your risk for stroke, blood clots, and heart attack. Additionally, if you already have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, your risk of developing these conditions worsens. The more heavily you smoke, the greater your risk is, although even light smoking is considered dangerous, especially when combined with birth control pills.

If you're taking birth control and smoking tobacco products, you should think about quitting immediately. You can also talk to your doctor about alternative forms of birth control, but be sure to be honest about your smoking habits.