Birth Control Pills: Uses, Side Effects, Dosage & Forms

What is Birth Control?

Birth control pills are a unique kind of medicine with hormones. The pills come in a pack and you are supposed to take 1 pill every single day. Birth control is safe and if you always take your pill on time, effective. In this 3-minute article we discuss the uses, side effects, dosage, and different forms of birth control. 

There are a few different types of birth control. 

Combination Pills

These type of pills contain synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen and progesterone (referred to as “progestin” in its synthetic form). Estrogen helps control the menstrual cycle. 

Estrogen levels peak in the middle of your cycle and are lowest when you have your period. Progesterone gets the uterus ready for pregnancy after ovulation by thickening the endometrium. Excess progesterone levels also prevent ovulation. 

There are 28 pills in one combination pack. Most pills in each cycle are active—meaning they contain hormones. The remaining pills, however, are inactive and don’t contain hormones. Types of combination pills include: 

  • Monophasic pills: Used in 1-month intervals, each active pill provides the same dose of hormone. During the last week of the cycle, you can skip (or take) the inactive pills and still have your period. 
  • Extended-cycle pills: These are usually taken in 13-week cycles. You may take active pills for 12 weeks, and during the last week of the cycle, skip or take the inactive pills and have your period. Consequently, you only have your period three to four times per year. 
  • Multiphasic pills: Similarly to monophasic pills, these are used in 1-month cycles and provide different levels of hormones during the cycle. When you are on the last week of the cycle you can take or skip the inactive pills. You will still have your period. 

 Brand Name Birth Control Pills 

  • Azurette
  • Beyaz
  • Enpresse
  • Estrostep Fe
  • Kariva
  • Levora
  • Loestrin
  • Natazia
  • Ocella
  • Low-Ogestrel
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Seasonale
  • Seasonique
  • Velivet
  • Yasmin
  • Yaz

Health Benefits of Combination Birth Control Pills

Research suggests that combination pills may provide some protection against the following: 

  • Acne
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Frail bones
  • Noncancerous breast growths
  • Endometrial and ovarian cancer
  • Anemia
  • Heavy periods
  • Severe menstrual cramps

Progestin-Only Pills

These type of pills, also referred to as the mini-pill—contain progestin without estrogen. This can help reduce bleeding in people with intense periods. Additionally, those who can’t take estrogen for health or other reasons and have a history of heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and/or deep vein thrombosis may benefit from taking progestin-only pills. 

What To Know 

With progestin-only pills, all pills in the cycle are “active.” You may or may not have a period while taking progestin-only pills because there are no inactive pills. Examples of brand-name progestin-only pills include: 

  • Camila 
  • Errin
  • Heather
  • Jencycla
  • Nor-QD
  • Ortho Micronor 

Benefits of Progestin-Only Pills 

These type of pills may be safer for individuals who: 

  • Are smokers
  • Older than 35
  • Are unable to tolerate estrogen therapy
  • Want to breastfeed
  • Have a history of blood clots

How To Decide On A Birth Control Type

Talk with your doctor of pharmacist to see which birth control pill type is best for you. There are a few things to consider when deciding on your pill: 

  • Your menstrual symptoms: If you experience intense bleeding, it may be more beneficial to use progestin-only birth control rather than a combination pill.
  • If you are breasting: If and when you are breastfeeding, your doctor may suggest that you avoid birth control pills that contain estrogen entirely.   
  • Your cardiovascular history: If you or your family have a history of heart disease or blood clots, your doctor may recommend a progestin-only birth control. 
  • Other medications: If you’re taking herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort or antibiotics then combination pills may not be for you. 
  • Other medications you may take. If you’re taking antibiotics or herbal remedies, such as St. John’s Wort, combination birth controls may not be a good fit for you. Certain antiviral drugs and epilepsy medications can also interfere with birth control pills, and vice versa.

How Does Birth Control Work?

Combination pills work in two ways. 

1) They prevent you from ovulating which means your ovaries won’t release an egg every month. 

2) These pills cause your body to thicken the fluid around your cervix (cervical mucus) that helps sperm travel to your uterus so it can fertilize an egg. This helps to prevent sperm from reaching the uterus. 

Progestin-Only Pills

Similarly to combination pills, progestin-only pills work in a couple of different ways. For the most part, they work by thickening your cervical mucus and by thinning your endometrium—the lining of your uterus. This is where an egg implants after it’s fertilized. If the lining is thinner it is more difficult for an egg to implant in it. 

How Effective Is Birth Control? 

Birth control pills are very effective for preventing pregnancy. Both the progestin-only pill and combination pill have less than 9 percent failure rates. In order to be fully effective, progestin pills should be taken within the same 3-hour time period each and every day. If you miss this window, you should take your pill immediately and also use another method of contraception for 2 days. 

Combination pills have a little more flexibility than progestin pills. With that being said, however, you should take them within the same daily 12-hour time period each day. This pill may be less effective if you are taking any of the following: 

  • Rifampin (an antibiotic)
  • St. John’s Wort
  • HIV medications like efaviernz 
  • Anti-seizure medications such as carbamazepine, levonorgestrel, and oral norethindrone 

Furthermore, this pill may also be less effective if you are or have been experiencing diarrhea or vomiting. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether you should use another contraception method for a few days.

Side Effects of Birth Control

Generally, birth control is safe and effective. There are some side effects, however, that each individual reacts to differently. Reported birth control side effects include: 

  • Decreased sex drive 
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Increase in vaginal discharge
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Breast tenderness

 Many of these side effects will subside or at least improve within a few days or months of taking the pill. If they don’t, you should consult with your healthcare professional so they can recommend the next best steps to take. 

Warnings

Serious risks can occur while using birth control. It may increase the risk of blood clots that can lead to: 

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Deep vein thrombosis

Research from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that only 10 out of 10,000 people taking birth control pills will develop a blood clot after a year. 

How Can I Get Birth Control Pills?

Fortunately, access to birth control pills is easier than ever. The traditional route of an in-person doctor visit is still an option, however, there are now more convenient ways of ordering your medication. 

With Manifest Pharmacy you can order your prescriptions online right from your device and receive fast and free home delivery. Stop overpaying for your prescriptions and connect live with one of our licensed pharmacists now.  

Summary 

Birth control pills are a unique kind of medicine with hormones. The pills come in a pack and you are supposed to take 1 pill every single day. When taken correctly, they have a 91 percent success rate. 

There two types of birth control pills are combination and progestin-only. The former is more common, however, progestin-only pills, may be a better fit for certain groups of people because they don’t contain any estrogen. 

As with any medication, before taking birth control be sure to talk to your doctor or medical professional to determine which type is best for you. 

Birth control

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