Ask an Expert – 23 April 2021

by | Jul 28, 2021 | General Health

Each week, we submit your questions to our experts. This week we asked Dr Katherine Hanks (GP) some questions about the pill and stretch marks…

“I was wondering if it is common to experience much higher than usual hair falling out after coming off the contraceptive pill? And also if that’s the case is there anything you can do to stop that side effect?”

Our hair has 3 phases- resting, growing and shedding. Sometimes stopping the pill can trigger a condition called Telogen Effluvium, where the ratios get flipped and more hair is resting and shedding than growing.

This means you will notice a lot more hair falling out and often a general thinning of the hair. Telogen effluvium can also be triggered by other shocks to the system like a severe illness, sudden weight loss, childbirth or emotional trauma.  The good news is that it is only temporary and will go back to normal over about 6 months.

Unfortunately there is no good way of preventing Telogen Effluvium, it’s just bad luck if it happens to you. There are other reasons for hair loss including thyroid issues and iron deficiency so it’s worth chatting to your doctor to consider a blood test.

“How many non-hormonal contraception options are there out there? And what are they?” 

There are lots of non-hormonal contraceptive options.

  • Copper IUD- a small copper T-shaped bar that lives in your uterus. This lasts for 5-10 years depending on which one you use. It’s a very effective form of contraception and can also be used as emergency contraception instead of the morning after pill. It can have side effects including heavier periods for many women
  • External condoms- these are 98% effective if used perfectly but the real world effectiveness is only 88% effective at preventing pregnancy. So if you use condoms it’s important to brush up on your technique! They have the added benefit of preventing many STIs.
  • Internal condoms- these go inside the vagina. They are more expensive and harder to find than external condoms, but some couples prefer them. With typical use they are only 79% effective at preventing pregnancy, but also can help prevent STIs
  • Diaphragm- This is a cup shaped barrier that is inserted into the vagina before sex and sits over the cervix, blocking sperm entering. You usually need to get it fitted by a nurse or doctor to get the correct sizing.
  • Fertility awareness- also known as the rhythm method, this involves tracking your cycle and avoiding sex during your fertile window. This is a less reliable method and requires a lot of careful planning and having a regular predictable cycle.
  • Pulling out- up to 24 people in 100 will have an unplanned pregnancy per year using this method so I can’t recommend it!

“Weight gain on the pill – I’ve gained weight being on it for 5 years. Is this normal?” 

Many people are worried about gaining weight while on the pill. There have been lots of studies looking at this over the years, and the conclusion is that weight gain is uncommon on the pill. For people who do gain weight just because of the pill, it is probably only a small amount, e.g 1-2kg.

We do know that gaining weight is really common for people at all stages of life so often this is just a coincidence.  In any case, I recommend concentrating on moving your body in ways you enjoy and eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and trying not to focus too much on the numbers on the scale.

“Hi there, just wondering if you can suggest some solutions to breast stretch marks? I have had them since I was a young teen but I think it’s too late for oils and creams to work? “

Unfortunately, stretch marks happen in the deepest layers of the skin, so no types of creams or oils can prevent stretch marks or improve their appearance. Any creams claiming they can help stretch marks are lying to you! A simple moisturiser can help if they are feeling itchy though.

Stretch marks are a normal part of going through puberty as well as weight changes, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some people get more stretch marks than others for genetic reasons. Most people have stretch marks (don’t let Instagram filters fool you!) and although it’s not always easy, trying to appreciate what your body has been through and done for you as it grows and changes can help to feel more accepting of your stretch marks.


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