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Birth Control Pill: Types, Side Effects, and How It Works

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Birth control pills are oral contraceptives containing a mix of hormones estrogen and progesterone or only progesterone (mini) hormones. 

Your obstetrician may advise you to take birth control pills on a cycle or continuously.

There are several other contraceptives beside birth control pills – one of which is a spiral (Intrauterine Device) or IUD. This contraceptive is placed in the uterus. Both birth control options offer different effectiveness and convenience levels. 

If you are considering birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, continue to read the full information below.

How Birth Control Pills Work 

A pregnancy begins when a woman’s egg joins with a man’s sperm. This process is called fertilisation. The fertilised egg will then implant in the uterus; where an embryo starts growing.  

Hormones in a woman’s body control the release of eggs from the ovaries, in a process known as ovulation.

Birth control pills work in three ways:

  1. The birth control pill contains the man-made forms of hormones called estrogen and progesterone. These two types of hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. In other words, birth control pills stop the ovulation process. 
  2. The birth control pills work by thickening cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to enter the cervix. 
  3. The birth control pills modify the lining of the uterus; preventing the fertilised egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus.

The use of birth control pills as a contraceptive method is deemed a relatively effective option. Birth control pills have an effectiveness rate of 99%.

By the time you decide to get pregnant again, you can simply stop consuming birth control pills. 

Types of Birth Control Pills 

There are 2 types of birth control pills – combination pills (containing the hormones estrogen and progesterone) and mini pills (containing the hormone progesterone only).

Combination Pills 

Combined oral contraceptive pills contain the estrogen and progesterone hormones that function to prevent ovulation.

Ovulation refers to release of a mature egg from the female ovary. Pregnancy is not possible if you use combination pills – as it prevents you from ovulating. 

There are several types of combination pills:

  • Monophasic birth control pills contain the same levels of estrogen and progesterone for each active pill in the first period of taking birth control pills.
  • Biphasic birth control pills contain the estrogen and progesterone hormones, but the hormone content changes halfway through the cycle. 
  • Triphasic birth control pills contain increased levels of estrogen and progesterone. In order to be effective, the pills must be taken every day and at the same time.

Mini-Pills

Unlike the combination pills, the mini-pills contain a low dose of the progesterone hormone. Mini pills can change the frequency of your menstrual period – which will affect pregnancy prevention.

When taking the mini pill, the mucus on the cervix and uterine wall will experience changes that affect your ovulation process. However, the mini pill is somewhat less effective at preventing pregnancy than the combination pill.

The mini-pills consumption may either induce an irregular or no menstrual cycle at all. 

Mini pills can be consumed every day. However, it is highly recommended that you do not increase your doctor’s recommended dose.

Tips for Starting Birth Control Pills 

If you are taking birth control pills for the first time, you should prepare as your body will adapt during the first 3 months. 

You may experience several symptoms such as light bleeding in the middle of two menstrual periods or absent menstruation, nausea, breast pain, persistent headaches, weight gain, and emotional instability.

The above are all natural reactions for women who are using birth control pills for the first time.

These symptoms will fade away after three months of using birth control pills. If the symptoms persist, you should consult your ob-gyn for further tests.

Before Consuming Birth Control Pills 

Taking birth control pills and other medicines at the same time will decrease its effectiveness. It is very important to inform your doctor regarding any medicines or body supplements you consume. 

Vomiting and diarrhea can interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of birth control pills. That is why you need to use protection such as condoms when having sex with your partner.

In addition, birth control pills also do protect you from sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV or herpes. 

Are Birth Control Pills Safe for All Women? 

Birth control pills are safe to be consumed by most women. However, the use of birth control pills is not recommended for women over 35 years of age that smoke.

If you are not an active smoker, you can continue to use birth control pills until you reach menopause.

In addition, you should not use birth control pills if you have: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Breast cancer or uterine cancer.
  • Severe heart or liver diseases.
  • Blood clots in the arms, legs, or lungs.

There are other conditions that can increase the side effects of birth control pills. We recommend that you consult with your doctor first to determine if it is safe for you to use birth control pills.

Side Effects of Birth Control Pills

Hormonal methods of contraception involve using artificial hormones to prevent ovulation in women.

There are side effects that you should be aware of before deciding to use birth control pills, including:

  • Nausea
  • Weight gain.
  • Swollen breasts.
  • Emotional instability and mood swings.
  • Bleeding between two menstrual periods.

There are also more severe side effects that can indicate a serious condition, such as liver disease, gallbladder disease, stroke, or heart disease. If you experience some of the side effects below, seek immediate consultation with your doctor for further tests. 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe headache
  • Chest pain 
  • Sore or swollen legs and thighs 
  • Eye problems such as blurred vision

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