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Oral Contraceptive Pills

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Oral contraceptive pills are medications that can be taken by women to prevent pregnancy. They are also called as ‘birth control pills’ or just ‘the pills’ at times.

Oral contraceptives are found to be 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy. Most of these pills contain two hormones – estrogen and progestin. These pills are called as combination pills. Some pills are progestin-only. Combination pills are most commonly used oral contraceptives by women.

Why are Oral Contraceptive Pills Prescribed?

Birth control is the most common and obvious reason for prescribing oral contraceptive pills. They contain two female sex hormones, estrogen and progestin. Their combination helps in prevention of ovulation process, that is, release of eggs from the ovaries, these hormones also help in changing the lining of the uterus so that it prevents pregnancy from developing. They also change the mucus at the cervix so that the sperms cannot enter the uterus.

In some cases, oral contraceptives are prescribed to reduce acne. Some pills are useful in relieving premenstrual dysphoric disorder symptoms in women.

How Do Birth Control Pills Work?

Birth control pills are made of synthetichormones. They act like natural hormones and help in:

  • Prevention of ovulation by changing the balance of the hormones, so that in the absence of an egg, pregnancy is not possible.
  • The mucus at the neck of the womb, that is, the cervix, is thickened such that it forms a mucus plug. Thus, it makes it difficult for the sperms to swim towards the uterus and fertilize the egg.
  • The lining of the uterus is made thinner, so that it becomes difficult for the fertilized egg to attach itself to the womb.

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Are Oral Contraceptive Pills Effective?

Oral contraceptive pills are definitely useful in prevention of pregnancy. Combination pills work is effective when taken every day. In case of progestin-only, they need to be taken every day at the same time. Only then are they useful in maintaining the level of hormones in the body.

Studies have shown that less than 1 woman may get pregnant annually after using contraceptive pills as directed. And about 9 women out of hundred may get pregnant annually, if they do not use the pills as directed.

Thus, oral contraceptive pills are very effective medications. They are less effective only if:

  • The woman is very overweight or obese
  • Use of antibiotic rifampin or other antibiotics
  • Use of antifungal medications such as griseofulvin
  • Use of HIV medications
  • Use of anti-seizure medications
  • The woman is suffering from vomiting and diarrhea

Advantages of Oral Contraceptive Pills

  • Helps regularize periods and makes them lighter and for shorter duration
  • Improves PMS symptoms such as headache and mood swings
  • Helps skip periods
  • Resolves acne problem
  • Reduces risk of ovarian cancer and uterine cancer

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Disadvantages of Oral Contraceptive Pills

  • Some women may develop side-effects such as headaches, sore breasts, nausea, etc.
  • Rise in blood pressure in some women
  • Increased risk of thrombosis, that is, blood clot
  • Bleeding between periods, usually when one takes progestin-only pills

How to Take Oral Contraceptive Pills?

One needs to take pills, according to the type of medications they choose. Combination pills come in a 28-day or 21-day packs. The 21-day pack should be taken every day for 3 weeks. After a week, one does not take any pills and a new pack is started at the end of the blank week. In case of 28-day pack, the last 7 pills are ‘reminder pills’ that do not contain any hormones.

In case of progestin-only pills, they come in 28-day packs. If one chooses to avoid menstruation during the fourth week, one can continue using their progestin-only pills after completion of their 3 week dose.

This was about oral contraceptive pills. Your body will take time to adjust to the dose. One may suffer from bleeding when on the pill, or have bleeding after completion of one course. Some may never bleed during the seven-day break between the pill pack. Speak to your doctor regarding the dose and type of pills that may suit you for the prevention of pregnancy. The chance of getting pregnant when on ‘the pill’ is very, very low. Thus, it is a safe contraceptive method for women. But, oral contraceptive pills will not prevent the transfer of sexually transmitted diseases like a condom.

Written by: Batul nafisa

Date last updated: February 06, 2015