Thanks to the advances in medical sciences, one can prevent unwanted/unplanned pregnancies by using a range of birth control options available today. Out of all options, Birth Control Pills/Oral Contraceptives have proved to be a boon in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Birth Control Pills remain to be the most preferred contraceptive, which are used by an estimated 100 million women worldwide. Let’s take a look at what birth control pills are all about.
Birth control pills (BCPs), also known as oral contraceptives (OCs), are medications taken by mouth to prevent pregnancy. It is also called, simply, ‘the pill’, which is a 99% effective birth control method, when taken as directed. Thus, the effectiveness of the pill that offers protection against pregnancy depends entirely upon its proper use.
Birth control pills, one of the most reliable methods of birth control, contain synthetic female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which suppress ovulation. The pills prevent pregnancy through various mechanisms. These pills work by preventing the release of an egg from an ovary. They also work by changing the cervical mucus, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus. Also, they alter the uterine lining, making it less receptive to a fertilized egg.
Birth control pills are of two types: (1) the combination pill and (2) the progestin-only pill.
The combination pill: This pill contains estrogen and progestin. It can be further classified as (a) monophasic birth control pills that contain the same amount of estrogen and progestin and (b) multiphasic birth control pills that contain varied amount of estrogen and progestin.
A combination pill is a reversible type of contraception, which is more effective than progestin-only pills. It reduces the frequency of ectopic pregnancy and decreases the volume of menstrual blood as well. The other advantages of this pill include less breakthrough bleeding; reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers; and regulation of menstrual cycles.
The progestin-only pill: This pill is also called mini pill, which containsprogestin only. This type of pill does not contain estrogen and hence ideal for breastfeeding mothers, as estrogen lowers milk production. To work effectively, the progestin-only pills should be taken at the same time each day. These pills are a good choice for women smokers of over 35 years of age.
Also, there is yet another type of pill namely ‘Emergency Contraceptive Pill’, which is also known as Morning-After Pill’. It is used to prevent pregnancy in women who have had unprotected sex. It is important to note that Emergency Contraceptive Pill should not be used as a regular birth control pill. Also, this type of pill will not work if you are already pregnant.
There are many advantages to using birth control pills in addition to preventing pregnancy:
- Easy-to-use birth control method
- May reduce acne
- Regulation of menstrual cycles
- Reduction of menstrual cramps
- Reduction in the risk of anemia, symptomatic endometriosis, and ovarian cysts.
While majority of women using birth control pills experience only minor side effects, there are some disadvantages to their use:
- Do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS
- Increased risk of stroke and blood clot
- Must be taken at the same time every day
- Decreased sexual desire.
As with any medications, side effects can occur while using birth control pills. At the beginning of taking birth control pills, a women’s body tries to initially adjust to the hormonal changes and may cause certain side effects. However, most women will have very few side effects or may not even have one.
The side effects of birth control pills include one or more of the following:
- Abdominal Pain
- Breast Tenderness
- Weight Gain
- Mood Swings
Certain drugs can cause interactions when used with birth control pills, including some antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, anti-HIV protease inhibitors, and antidepressants.
Some drugs that may interact with oral contraceptives include
- St. John's Wort
Before taking birth control pills, you should tell your health care provider if you suffer from the following health conditions:
- Heart Disease
- Liver Disease
- Gallbladder Disease
- High Cholesterol