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Birth Control Pills: How To Use, Effectiveness, And Side Effects

Birth control is a way for men and women (especially, women) to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control, like hormonal contraception such as “the pill.”

Women take the pill orally, to prevent pregnancy, and, when taken in the approved manner, it is up to 99.9% effective. However, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).

There are other types of combined estrogen and progestin hormonal contraception, like the patch and the vaginal ring.

The oral contraceptive pill is a hormone-based method of preventing pregnancy, and can also help resolve irregular menstruation, painful or heavy periods, endometriosis, acne, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Birth control pills work by preventing ovulation, in such a way that no egg is produced, so there is nothing for the sperm to fertilize. Thus, pregnancy cannot occur.

“The pill” is used by nearly 16 percent of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States, and it has both advantages and disadvantages, and people with different risk factors may be advised to use a particular kind of pill.


There are different types of contraceptive pills, and they all contain synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, or both.

Synthetic progesterone is called progestin, and while combination pills contain progestin and estrogen, the “mini-pill,” contains only progestin.

Monophasic pills all contain the same balance of hormones, and with phasic pills, two or three different types of pill are taken each month, each with a different balance of hormones.

The everyday pills” and “21-day pills is another option. A pack of everyday pills lasts 28 days, but seven of the pills are inactive, and the everyday pill may be easier to use correctly, as the routine is the same every day.

Used correctly, the pill is highly effective, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the failure rate for both types of the pill at 9%.

Birth control pills do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and only a condom can help prevent this type of infection.

How Do I Use The Birth Control Pill?

Using the pill is easy. Swallow a tiny pill every day. Being that a woman becomes pregnant when an egg released from her ovary is fertilized by a man’s sperm.

The fertilized egg attaches to the inside of a woman’s womb (uterus), where it receives sustenance and diet and develops into a baby.

Hormones in the woman’s body control the release of the egg from the ovary (ovulation) and prepare the body to accept the fertilized egg.

Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring) all contain a small amount of synthetic estrogen and progestin hormones, which work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy.

Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors:

  • The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from ovulating.
  • Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to go through the cervix and find an egg.
  • Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by changing the lining of the womb so it’s unlikely the fertilized egg will be implanted.

Different Types Of Birth Control Pills

Combination Pills (COCs): Birth control pills with two hormones (estrogen and progestin) are called combination pills. They’re the most common type of birth control pill and usually come in 28-day or 21-day packs.

You’re protected from pregnancy as long as you take 1 pill every day, and you don’t have to take it at the exact same time every day.

Progestin-Only Pills: Progestin-only pills have 1 kind of hormone (progestin), and don’t have any estrogen. You should take progestin-only pills within the same three hours every day to be protected from pregnancy.

Progestin-only pills come only in 28-day (four-week) packs, and all 28 pills have hormones. You may get your period during the fourth week, and you could also have to bleed on and off throughout the month (spotting) or get no period at all.

Side Effects Of Pills

Common side effects of oral contraceptives include:

  • nausea
  • breast tenderness
  • intermenstrual spotting
  • headaches and migraine
  • weight gain
  • mood changes
  • missed periods
  • decreased libido
  • changes to eyesight for those using contact lenses
  • vaginal discharge


The combined pill can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as:

  • blood clots,
  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT),
  • a clot on the lung,
  • A stroke or heart attack.

Birth control pills have also been associated with an increase in blood pressure, benign liver tumors, and some types of cancer.


The pill should not be taken by:

  • pregnant women
  • smokers over the age of 35 years,
  • anyone who is obese
  • those who are taking certain medications
  • anyone who has or has had thrombosis, a stroke, or a heart problem
  • anyone with a close relative who had a blood clot before the age of 45 years
  • people who have severe migraines, especially with an aura as the warning sign
  • anyone who has had diabetes for at least 20 years
  • anyone who has diabetes with complications
  • anyone who has or had had breast cancer or disease of the liver or gallbladder

See the doctor immediately if any of the following occurs,

  • abdominal or stomach pain
  • chest pain, shortness of breath, or both
  • severe headaches
  • eye problems such as blurred vision or loss of vision
  • swelling or aching in the legs and thighs
  • redness, swelling or pain in the calf or thighs

These signs may indicate a more serious condition.

Points to Keep in Mind When Taking Birth Control Pills

  • Keep another form of birth control on hand in case you forget to take a pill.
  • Carry your pills with you if you don’t always sleep in the same place.
  • Take your pill at the same time every day.
  • Get your refills soon after you start the last prescription.
  • Birth control pills, patches, and vaginal rings are all medications, and always tell your doctor or pharmacist you are on the pill, patch, or vaginal ring.



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