Combination birth control pills are oral contraceptives that contain estrogen and a progestin.
Combination birth control pills keep the ovaries from releasing an egg, and they also cause changes in the cervical mucus and the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to keep sperm from uniting with the egg.
Different types of combination birth control pills contain different doses of estrogen and progestin, and continuous-dosing or extended-cycle pills allow you to reduce the number of periods you have each year.
When using combination birth control pills, you should make sure that your healthcare provider has fully explained how to start taking the pill and what to do if you notice unusual effects or accidentally forget to take a pill.
Combination birth control pills are a reliable form of contraception that’s easily reversed, and different brands include Loestrin FE, Seasonique, Yasmin, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen.
Benefits of The Combination Pills
Fertility can return to normal almost immediately after stopping the pills and other benefits of these pills include:
- Decreased risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers
- Decreased risk of ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cysts, benign breast disease
- Improvement in acne
- Less-severe menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), and reduction in heavy menstrual bleeding due to uterine fibroids and other causes,
- reduction in related iron iron-deficiency anemia
- Reduction in androgen production caused by polycystic ovary syndrome
- Relief from premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Shorter, lighter and more-predictable periods or fewer periods yearly
- Better control of the monthly cycle
- Reduction in hot flashes for women nearing menopause (perimenopause)
Some General Guidelines On How To Use Combination Birth Control Pills
- Pick a time of day to take the pill that’s easy to remember, since taking the pill at the same time each day makes it more effective.
- If the pill pack is started during your period, you will be protected against pregnancy immediately and will not need to use a backup birth control method.
- You can decide to take the first active pill in the pack at any time, but if you start the pill pack during any other time during your menstrual cycle (and not during your period), protection will begin after seven days.
- You should use an additional method of birth control if you’re having sexual intercourse during the first week of combination pill use.
- It may be useful to check the pack of pills each morning to make sure that yesterday’s pill was taken.
- The hormones contained in the active pills that you take during weeks one to three prevent pregnancy throughout the month. Thus, even during the fourth week, you’re protected against becoming pregnant regardless if you’re taking reminder pills or no pills at all.
- Continue to take one pill a day until the pack is finished, and if you’re using a 28-day pack, you should begin a new pack immediately and not skip any days between packages. But, if you’re using a 21-day pack, you should stop taking pills for 1 week and then start your next pack.
- Ensure to read and follow the instructions inside the pill package.
- Anytime you want to become pregnant or don’t want to use the pill anymore, you can just stop taking it, and it typically can take one to three months for your period to return to the cycle you had before starting the pill.
- If pills are missed, the best thing to do is to refer to your particular pill’s package insert, and you should always keep one copy of your package insert in a place where you can find it easily. The instructions can be more complicated with the newer, lower dose and extended regimen pills.
Common combination pill names include Alesse, Apri, Aranelle, Aviane, Enpresse, Estrostep, Lessina, Levlen, Levlite, Levora, Loestrin, Mircette, Natazia, Nordette, Lo/Orval, Ortho-Novum, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Yasmin and Yaz.
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10 Most Common Birth Control Pill Side Effects
When used correctly, the pill is highly effective, but people do make mistakes, and as such, 6 to 12 pregnancies in every 100 are thought to occur each year while using the birth control pills.
Birth control pills do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but a condom can help prevent this type of infection.
Common side effects of oral contraceptives include:
- Intermenstrual spotting: During spotting, the pill is still effective, as long as it has been taken correctly and no doses are missed. This bleeding may happen because the uterus is adjusting to having a thinner endometrial lining or because the body is adjusting to having different levels of hormones.
- Nausea: Some people experience mild nausea when first taking the pill, but symptoms usually subside with time. Taking the pill with food or at bedtime may help, but if nausea is severe or persists for longer than 3 months, you should consult your doctor or seek medical guidance.
- Breast tenderness: Birth control pills may cause breast enlargement or tenderness, which normally resolves a few weeks after starting the pill. Anyone who has persistent pain or tenderness or severe breast pain should seek medical help. To relieving breast tenderness, reduce caffeine and salt intake and wear a supportive bra.
- Headaches and migraine: The hormones in birth control pills can increase the likelihood of headaches and migraine, and pills with different types and doses of the hormone may trigger different symptoms. Conditions normally improve over time, but if severe headaches start when you begin taking the pill, you should seek medical advice.
- Weight gain: Clinical studies have not found a consistent correlation between the use of birth control pills and weight fluctuations, however, fluid retention may occur, especially around the breasts and hips. Some types of hormonal contraceptive have been linked to a decrease in lean body mass.
- Mood changes: Studies suggest that oral contraceptives may affect mood and increase the risk of depression or other emotional changes. Anyone experiencing mood swings during pill use should contact their medical provider.
- Missed periods: Even with proper use of a pregnancy pill, a period may sometimes be missed. Stress, illness, travel, and hormonal or thyroid abnormalities are some factors that can influence this outcome. If a period is missed, a pregnancy test is recommended before starting the next pack.
- Decreased libido: The hormones in the contraceptive pill can affect sex drive or libido in some people. In some cases, however, the birth control pill can increase libido, by removing concerns about pregnancy and reducing the painful symptoms of menstrual cramping, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.
- Vaginal discharge: Changes in vaginal discharge may occur when taking the pill, but if vaginal dryness results, added lubrication can help make sex more comfortable. These changes are not usually harmful, but fluctuations in color or odor could indicate an infection, and you should speak with your medical provider.
- Eye changes: Hormonal changes caused by the birth control pills have been linked to a congealing of the cornea in the eyes. Oral contraceptive use has not been associated with a higher risk of eye disease, but the contact lenses may no longer fit comfortably. Thus, contact lens wearers should consult their ophthalmologist if they experience any changes in vision or lens tolerance during pill use.