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Birth control pills: Facts you need to know

After almost 50 years on the market, the “Pill” continues to be one of the most popular and effective forms of birth control. More than 18 million women in the United States rely on it every month to prevent pregnancy. The problem? Recent research shows many young women ignore the important fine print on oral contraceptive packaging, missing important facts about this form of birth control that every woman should know. To help, we’ve created an easy-to-understand guide about oral contraceptives.

Birth Control Pills

Birth control pill basics

The birth control pill was created in 1960 as a way for women to control their menstrual cycle and to prevent pregnancy. The small pills, loaded with progesterone and estrogen, work together to
prevent ovulation (the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries to the uterus where it prepares for fertilization). The Pill also makes the lining of the uterus unreceptive to the implantation of
a fertilized egg (necessary to get pregnant). Currently, there are three types of birth control pills on the market.

Progestin-only Pills: They contain no estrogen and are ideal for women who have just given birth

Combination Pills: The most common form of oral contraceptive. Most packages contain three weeks of hormone pills and one week of sugar pills (or spacer pills). They come in two
different doses: monophasic and multiphasic.

  • Monophasic: These pills contain a level amount of progesterone and estrogen, meaning side effects are minimal.
  • Multiphasic: These pills contain three different doses of hormones, changing every seven days. They were designed to reduce side effects like breakthrough bleeding and spotting.

Emergency Contraceptive Pills: These are designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. A good example is Plan B.

Benefits of the birth control pill

While oral contraceptives work fairly successfully to prevent pregnancy, there are several other positive ways this type of birth control impacts a woman’s health:

  • Decrease menstrual blood loss, cramps and pain
  • More regular menstrual cycles
  • Can improve acne
  • Prevents bone density loss
  • Reduces the risk of developing ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer
  • Lessens the symptoms of endometriosis
  • Decreases benign lumps in the breast

Side effects of the birth control pill

The Pill isn’t without its health concerns. Some of the negative side effects associated with taking oral contraceptives include:

  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Blood clots (especially in smokers)
  • May contribute to the formation of gallstones and benign liver tumors
  • Weight gain or bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Venous thromboembolism
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke

Important questions to consider before taking The Pill

Before you consider taking oral contraceptives, here are some important questions you should ask yourself and your doctor.

  1. Are you the type of person who can remember to take a pill every day? (Oral contraceptives are only effective when taken consistently.)
  2. Will you consider also using condoms?
  3. Why are you looking to take birth control pills? Primarily to prevent pregnancy or to find relief from endometriosis or severe premenstrual syndrome?
  4. Are you a smoker?
  5. Will occasional spotting and bleeding bother you or interfere with your sex life?
  6. Do you have high blood pressure?
  7. Are you prone to anxiety attacks or hypertension?
  8. Will taking birth control pills decrease the effectiveness of any medications you are taking or will any medication you are on decrease the effectiveness of your birth control pills?

Oral contraceptives are an effective method of preventing pregnancy, but birth control pills aren’t appropriate for every woman. Talk to your doctor about all of your birth control options to
determine which method is right for you.

More on birth control

Birth control for the busy woman

Breastfeeding and birth control

The Ortho Evra patch controversy

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