Do Antibiotics Interfere With Birth Control Pills?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

What are the effects of antibiotics on birth control pills?

Doctor's response

There are two ways that antibiotics potentially can reduce the action of birth control pills. Birth control pills contain estrogens. Some antibiotics, e.g., rifampin, griseofulvin, cause the enzymes in the liver to increase the break-down of estrogens and thereby can decrease the levels of estrogens in the body and the effectiveness of the pills. This can result in unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, individuals taking birth control pills should use a second method of birth control when taking these antibiotics or other drugs that can increase the break-down of estrogens.

The other way that antibiotics could interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills is by reducing the re-circulation of estrogens within the body. Estrogens, e.g., ethinyl estradiol, in birth control pills are broken-down by conversion in the liver to other chemicals which are then secreted into the intestines in the bile that is produced by the liver. Bacteria in the intestine are able to convert these chemicals back into the active estrogen which is then reabsorbed into the body. This re-circulation is called entero-hepatic cycling.

Theoretically, antibiotics can kill the bacteria that convert the inactive chemicals to the active estrogen, and, therefore, may interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills. Unwanted pregnancies could occur. Although it has not been proven that unwanted pregnancies can occur by this means, drug manufacturers caution that antibiotics could decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. Since it is better to be safe than sorry, individuals taking birth control pills are advised to use a second reliable method of birth control when taking antibiotics.

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018
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