To what extent do oral contraceptives influence mood and affect?

J Affect Disord. 2002 Aug;70(3):229-40. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(01)00356-1.


Background: Studies examining the effects of oral contraceptives (OCs) on mood, affect, and affect variability are reviewed.

Methods: MEDLINE and PsycLIT data bases were examined to identify studies that compared OC users with nonusers using daily ratings of mood, affect, or affect variability.

Results: Compared to non-users, OC users experience less variability in affect across the entire menstrual cycle, and less negative affect during menstruation (i.e. withdrawal bleeding). In women with OC-related negative mood and affect change, potential mediators of the relation between OCs and mood or affect were identified: a history of depression, psychiatric symptoms, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual mood symptoms prior to OC use; a history of pregnancy-related mood symptoms; a family history of OC-related mood complaints; being in the postpartum period; and age. Furthermore, a lower ratio of progesterone to estrogen is associated with more negative mood change in women with a history of premenstrual emotional symptoms, higher progesterone to estrogen ratios are associated with increased negative mood effects in women without such a history, and monophasic OCs have a greater stabilizing effect on mood than triphasic OCs.

Limitations: The 'survivor effect', psychological factors, and indirect pharmacological effects (e.g. weight gain) have not yet been systematically investigated. Furthermore, most studies have examined only negative mood or affect, as opposed to both positive and negative affect and affect variability; and few affect studies have assessed potential mediators of OC-related affect change.

Conclusions: While the only consistent OC-related mood effects experienced by most women are beneficial, a subgroup of women do experience negative mood change. Future research must focus on expounding the individual difference and OC-related risk factors for negative mood change.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects*
  • Contraceptives, Oral / adverse effects*
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mood Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Risk Factors


  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone