Birth Control Pills: A Comprehensive Guide

Manish Choudhary
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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birth control pills

In the world of reproductive health, birth control pills have emerged as a popular and effective method for preventing unwanted pregnancies. 

Since their introduction in the 1960s, these small hormonal tablets have revolutionized family planning and provided individuals with greater control over their reproductive choices. 

These small but potent pills have played a crucial role in giving people the ability to manage their reproductive decisions.

This article explores the different types of birth control pills and delves into their mechanisms of action and their uses.

It also discusses the potential side effects and provides guidance on obtaining them.

Types of birth control pills

Two main categories of birth control pills exist combination pills and Progestin-only pills.

Combination pills

Containing a combination of Estrogen and Progestin hormones, combination pills are the more common form of oral contraceptives. 

These hormones collaborate to stop ovulation, make cervical mucus thicker, and change the uterine lining. 

Together, they create a strong barrier to prevent pregnancy effectively.

Combination pills are further categorized into monophasic and multiphasic pills. 

Monophasic pills maintain a consistent hormone dosage throughout the menstrual cycle.

While multiphasic pills alter hormone levels at various stages of the cycle, mimicking the natural hormonal fluctuations in a woman’s body.

With perfect use, combination pills boast an efficacy rate of over 99%, making them one of the most reliable contraceptive methods available.

However, typical use, which accounts for human error, places their effectiveness at around 91%.

The usual method for pill use involves taking one daily for 21 days, followed by a 7-day break when you experience a bleed similar to a period. 

After this week, you resume taking the pill.

Progestin-only pills

Woman holding birth control pillsSource: Signature_images
Woman holding birth control pills

Also known as mini-pills, Progestin-only pills contain only synthetic Progesterone (Progestin). 

They mainly work by making the cervical mucus thicker, which makes it harder for sperm to reach the egg, and sometimes, they also prevent ovulation.

Progestin-only pills are often recommended for individuals who are sensitive to Estrogen or those breastfeeding since they pose a lower risk of complications for these populations.

The efficacy of these pills is slightly lower than combination pills. 

The Progestogen-only pill needs to be taken every day to work, without any breaks like in the case of combination pills.

With perfect use, they are around 99%, while typical use lowers the effectiveness to approximately 91%.

Fact:
Birth control pills, initially developed to treat menstrual disorders, gained popularity as a contraceptive when women taking the medication experienced a lower rate of unplanned pregnancies.

How do birth control pills work

Birth control pills primarily operate by altering the hormonal balance in the body, disrupting the normal menstrual cycle, and preventing ovulation. 

The key hormones involved are Estrogen and Progestin. 

These synthetic hormones mimic the natural hormones produced by the ovaries and work in several ways:

  • Inhibition of ovulation: The main way it works is by stopping ovulation, which is when an egg is released from the ovary. If there’s no ovulation, there’s no egg for sperm to fertilize
  • Cervical mucus changes: Birth control pills thicken the cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg. This alteration creates an additional barrier to fertilization
  • Endometrial changes: The lining of the uterus undergoes changes, making it less receptive to a fertilized egg. If fertilization does occur, the fertilized egg may find it challenging to implant in the uterus

Uses of birth control

Source: AndreyPoPov_from_Getty_Images
Regulating menstrual cycles

While preventing pregnancy is the primary purpose, birth control pills can also offer several other health benefits. 

Here are some common uses apart from contraception:

  • Regulating menstrual cycles: Contraceptive pills can help regulate irregular menstrual cycles, making them more predictable and reducing symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
  • Reducing menstrual cramps: Birth control pills may alleviate menstrual cramps by reducing the intensity and duration of menstrual flow
  • Treating acne: Some birth control pills are FDA-approved for the treatment of acne. They can help regulate hormones that contribute to acne development
  • Managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Birth control pills are often prescribed to manage symptoms of PCOS, such as irregular periods, acne, and excess hair growth, by regulating hormonal imbalances
  • Decreasing menstrual bleeding: Birth control pills can reduce the amount and duration of menstrual bleeding, which is beneficial for women with heavy or prolonged periods (Menorrhagia)
  • Treating Endometriosis: Birth control pills can help manage symptoms of Endometriosis. It is a condition wherein tissues similar to the lining of the inside of the uterus grow outside the uterus, causing pain and fertility issues
  • Preventing ovarian and uterine cancers: Long-term use of birth control pills has been linked with a reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancers
  • Managing Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): Birth control pills may be used to alleviate the severe emotional and physical symptoms associated with PMDD

It’s important to note that while birth control pills have many benefits, they are not suitable for everyone. 

Women should consult with their healthcare providers to discuss their individual health needs, medical history, and any potential side effects or risk factors related to the use of birth control pills.

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Side effects of birth control pills

While birth control pills are generally well-tolerated, they may come with side effects that vary from person to person. 

Knowing possible side effects is crucial. 

If you have any concerns, talk to a healthcare professional.

Common side effects include:

  • Nausea: Certain people might feel nauseous, especially when beginning a new pill. Eating the pill with food or before bedtime can help ease this symptom
  • Breast tenderness: Changes in hormones may cause the breasts to become tender or larger
  • Mood changes: Some users report mood swings, depression, or changes in libido. Usually, these effects are mild and often get better as time goes on
  • Headaches: Birth control pills may contribute to headaches in some individuals. If headaches become severe or persistent, a healthcare provider should be consulted
  • Spotting or breakthrough bleeding: Irregular bleeding between periods is a common side effect, especially during the first few months of pill use

Who cannot or should not use birth control pills

While birth control pills are suitable for many women, certain conditions may make their use risky or impractical. 

Women with the following conditions are generally advised against using birth control pills:

  • History of blood clots
  • Liver disease
  • Certain types of migraines
  • Breast cancer
  • Uncontrolled Hypertension

It’s crucial for people to have a detailed medical check-up and talk to a healthcare professional to find the best birth control method for their specific situation.

How to get birth control pills

Doctor writing a prescriptionSource: freepik
Doctor writing a prescription

Obtaining birth control pills involves a few straightforward steps:

  • Consultation with a healthcare provider: Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider, such as a gynecologist or primary care physician. During the consultation, discuss your medical history, lifestyle, and any concerns you may have
  • Prescription: Based on the consultation, the healthcare provider will prescribe a suitable birth control pill. Make sure to tell them about any health issues or medicines you’re using to make sure everything works well together
  • Accessing birth control pills: Birth control pills can be obtained offline or online from pharmacies or healthcare facilities. Some countries allow over-the-counter purchases, while others require a prescription
  • Regular check-ups: Follow-up appointments are essential to monitor your health and assess the pill’s effectiveness. These visits also allow for discussing worries and making changes to the prescription if needed

Conclusion

Birth control pills, introduced in the 1960s, have been a game-changer in family planning, providing individuals with unprecedented control over their reproductive choices. 

Whether in the form of combination pills, with their 99% efficacy in preventing pregnancy.

Progestin-only pills, offering a suitable option for those sensitive to Estrogen, these tiny hormonal tablets have become integral to reproductive health.

By mimicking natural hormones, birth control pills work to prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, and alter the uterine lining, creating a robust barrier against fertilization. 

Although birth control pills are usually well-tolerated, users should be mindful of possible side effects such as nausea, breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches, and spotting.

It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional to discuss worries and consider other choices if necessary.

Obtaining birth control pills involves a straightforward process, starting with a consultation with a healthcare provider. 

Following a prescription, regular check-ups ensure the pill’s effectiveness and provide an opportunity to address any concerns. 

Access to birth control pills is facilitated through pharmacies or healthcare facilities, with some countries allowing over-the-counter purchases and others requiring a prescription.

Warning:
While using mini pills, it’s crucial to steer clear of smoking or tobacco products. Doing so substantially increases the chances of a heart attack or stroke. Prioritize your cardiovascular health and consult with your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main purpose of birth control pills?

Birth control pills primarily serve as a contraceptive method, preventing unplanned pregnancies. Additionally, they can regulate menstrual cycles, manage hormonal imbalances, and alleviate associated symptoms.

Do various kinds of birth control pills exist?

Yes, birth control pills come in various types, including combination pills (containing Estrogen and Progestin) and Progestin-only pills. The choice depends on individual health considerations and preferences.

Do birth control pills have benefits beyond contraception?

Yes, birth control pills can offer benefits such as regulating menstrual cycles, reducing menstrual cramps, and managing hormonal imbalances that impact acne and PMS. However, their usage should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

How can I ensure the effectiveness of birth control pills?

To maximize effectiveness, it is crucial to take birth control pills consistently and as prescribed by a healthcare provider. Additionally, open communication with the healthcare team ensures personalized guidance based on individual health needs.

Citations:
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