Contraception Hormonal Methods The Pill

Birth control pills are generally considered a safe, convenient and effective contraception method for women who wish to prevent pregnancy. Also known as “the pill,” the birth control pill uses artificial hormones in a daily medication to help prevent ovulation and to alter associated conditions to prevent pregnancy. The hormones also cause the cervical mucus to thicken, which makes it more difficult for sperm to get through the cervix to the uterus.

Because birth control pills release exogenous hormones into a woman’s body, they are not the best birth control method for everyone.

The Pill: Benefits and Risks

Birth control pills are easy to get with a prescription, and generally cost between $20 and $40 per month. Some types of the pill can:

  • Improve acne problems
  • Protect against ovarian and endometrial cancer
  • Reduce PMS symptoms.

Birth control pills aren’t the best birth control method for every woman. The pill shouldn’t be used by those who:

  • Are breast-feeding
  • Are older than age 35 and smoke
  • Currently suffer from migraines with aura, diabetes-related complications or blood-clotting problems
  • Have a history of blood clots, deep-vein thrombosis, heart disease or stroke
  • Have a history of certain cancers
  • Have a history of kidney, liver or adrenal gland problems.

Types of the Pill

There are many different brands of birth control pills. Some prescriptions have estrogen and progestin (combination), while others have progestin-only (called “mini-pills.”) The low dose of progestin in the mini-pill may cause a higher failure rate in some women than other hormonal contraceptive methods.

Most forms of the pill replicate normal 28-day menstrual cycles. However, there are some birth control pills designed for extended-cycle (or continuous) regimens. One brand suppresses menstrual bleeding all year long, while other brands limit menstrual bleeding to every three months. If you are interested in these newer forms of medication, talk to your doctor for personal preferences and suitability of these pills.

Birth Control Pill Success Rates

Some drugs don’t interact well with birth control pills, or may even limit their effectiveness — especially antibiotics. When consistently taken daily at the same time, the birth control pill is 99 percent effective in preventing unintended pregnancy. When taken daily, but not as consistently, the pill is about 92 percent effective.

Proper Use of the Pill

The most common complaint about the birth control pill is that it’s difficult to remember to take it every day. Generally, forgetting one pill means taking two the next day. Missing more than one birth control pill may affect the menstrual cycle for that month or increase your chances of pregnancy. Progestin-only pills must be taken at the same time every day. Consult your birth control pills’ packaging or notify a health professional for instructions when you miss a dosage.

Keep in mind that, while birth control pills are the best birth control for many women, condoms should also be used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Resources

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Staff. (2007). Birth control. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from the American College of Obstetrics website: http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/ab020.cfm.

Planned Parenthood Staff. (2010). Birth control pill. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from the Planned Parenthood web site: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/birth-control-pill-4228.htm.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Staff. (2009). Best birth control pill: How to choose. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: ttp://www.mayoclinic.com/health/best-birth-control-pill/MY00996.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Staff. (2009). Birth control pill FAQ: Benefits, risks and choices. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/birth-control-pill/WO00098.