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Birth Control Pill: The Basics

What is the birth control pill?

A birth control pill is a type of contraception method. It is used by women, and taken orally once a day. Most birth control pills contain two hormones - estrogen and progestogen, which is why these are also referred to as combined hormonal contraceptive (CHC) pills, or combined oral contraceptive (COC) pills, or just the pill.

Birth control pills have been used by women worldwide for almost 60 years. There are various brands and formulations available, however majority of them contains estrogen and progestin. The natural forms of these two hormones help regulate the menstrual cycle and play an important role in reproductive health.

In addition to having a contraceptive effect, birth control pills have several non-contraceptive benefits as well. If you are considering this form of contraception, it is important that you make informed decisions, and ensure that you are aware of its effectiveness as well as potential risks and benefits.

How does the birth control pill work?

The pill works by preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (called ovulation). It also thickens the mucus in the neck of the womb (cervix), so it is harder for sperm to penetrate the womb and reach an egg. In addition, it thins the lining of the womb, so there is less chance of a fertilized egg implanting into the womb.

How effective is the birth control pill in preventing pregnancy?

The birth control pill is a very effective method of contraception, however it is also highly user dependent, and its effectiveness is based on its typical or perfect use.

Perfect use means that you use the pill consistently, without missing any pills, and once a pack/cycle is finished start the new pack on time. Typical use means that you don't always take the pill consistently or correctly.

If used perfectly, the pill is more than 99% effective, which means the risk of contraceptive failure with the pill is low (less than 1%). With typical use, however, when the pill is not taken consistently or restarted on time, it is estimated to be 91% effective. Other factors can also affect the effectiveness of the pill, such as interactions with other medications that may be taken at the same time and special circumstances (for example diarrhea and vomiting).

When seeking birth control with Dear Doc, we ask our users if they are currently taking any medications or supplements. Once you start using birth control, it may be a good idea to check with our doctor before taking any new medicines, including herbal remedies, and let our the doctor know if you are not feeling well due to diarrhea or vomiting.

What are the benefits of the birth control pill?

The pill has several benefits besides preventing pregnancy.

  • It is a very effective and non-invasive method of contraception.

  • It does not interfere with sexual intercourse.

  • Using packs together can help you control the timing of menstrual periods, which may benefit you during holidays and other events.

  • It can regulate your periods, make them lighter and less painful.

  • Some women find that their premenstrual symptoms are lessened.

  • It can improve acne in some women.

  • It has shown to improve symptoms of endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

  • It has shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancers including endometrial, ovarian and colorectal. Furthermore, the reduction in risk for endometrial and ovarian cancer increases with the duration of use and persists for many years after use of birth control has been stopped.

What are the disadvantages of the pill?

Just like all contraceptive methods, the birth control pill has its limitations.

  • It relies on you remembering to take a pill every day at the same time each day.

  • It can have side effects in some women, such as break-through bleeding, during the initial few weeks and months of its use.

  • It has some risks associated with its use which can make it an unsuitable choice for certain women.

  • It does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), barrier methods such as condoms are most protective.

For better understanding, we recommend checking out our other article on how to manage if a birth control pill dose missed. __________ References

Farquhar C, Brown J; Oral contraceptive pill for heavy menstrual bleeding. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Oct 7(4):CD000154. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000154.pub2. Wong CL, Farquhar C, Roberts H, et al; Oral contraceptive pill for primary dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Oct 7(4):CD002120. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002120.pub3. Lopez LM, Kaptein AA, Helmerhorst FM; Oral contraceptives containing drospirenone for premenstrual syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 152:CD006586. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006586.pub4. Schindler AE; Non-contraceptive benefits of oral hormonal contraceptives. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Winter11(1):41-7. doi: 10.5812/ijem.4158. Epub 2012 Dec 21. Arowojolu AO, Gallo MF, Lopez LM, et al; Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 117:CD004425. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004425.pub6.


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