Last Updated February 2nd, 2020
What are birth control pills?
The birth control pill was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 9, 1960, and since then it has given women the power to control pregnancies as needed. It is basically a pill that contains certain hormones and is a safe and effective way of stopping a pregnancy from happening.
With millions of women using it around the world, it is the most popular method for birth control. With a variety of such pills on the market, it is necessary to assess the exact condition of the patient to figure out which pill works best.
Previously, these pills used to have high amounts of the hormone oestrogen but now they come with a synthetic form of oestrogen and a synthetic form of progesterone known as progestin. In the past years, the manufacturers of these pills have altered the composition in various ways to prevent any side effects like blood clots.
How do birth control pills work?
When used in the correct way, these pregnancy control pills are almost 99% effective. It is to be noted that not all pills are suitable for every woman and this depends on multiple factors, some of which are listed below.
- The menstrual symptoms
- Whether the patient breastfeeding
- The overall cardiovascular health
- Presence of any other chronic health conditions
- Other medications that the patient might be consuming.
In order to find the pill that works best for you, you need to consult with the physician.
Types of birth control pills
Basically, the birth control pills can be divided into two main categories- the combination birth control pill, which contains both oestrogen and progestin and the mini-pill, which contains only progestin.
The combination pills
These pills prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg and also bring about changes in the cervical mucus and the lining of the uterus to prevent the sperm from meeting with the egg. Various forms of these pills contain different proportions of oestrogen and progestin and they can be either the monophasic, biphasic or the triphasic type. The monophasic pills deliver the same quantity of oestrogen and progestin every day.
The biphasic pills deliver the same quantity of oestrogen during the first 21 days of the cycle. During the next half, the progestin/oestrogen ratio is kept higher. In triphasic pills, the oestrogen quantity can be fixed or varying while the progestin concentrations keep changing. None of the pills are superior in performance to the other and the doctor can suggest the best options for an individual.
The Progestin-Only oral contraceptive pill
These are also termed as mini-pills and they come in a pack of 28 pills. As they contain only progestin, these pills are suited for women who cannot consume oestrogen due to some specific medical conditions or unwanted side-effects.
It functions by making thickens cervical mucus and thins the lining of the uterus so the sperms cannot reach the egg. The pill also suppresses the process of ovulation but not in a consistent manner. This is a pill that needs to be consumed at the same time every day.
The advantages of birth control pills
While the most important role of a birth control pill is to prevent pregnancy, it also has a range of other health benefits. Some of the most important benefits are listed below.
- By balancing the hormonal fluctuations that happen throughout a cycle, these pills can prevent irregular menstrual cycles and provide relief from heavy bleeding. It can also help with symptoms like acne and excess hair which results from PCOS.
- Most women experience painful contractions that cause cramps during ovulation and by preventing the process of ovulation, the pregnancy control pills provide relief from these pains. This is the major reason that causes more than 30% of women to use these pills.
- The combination pills help in balancing the hormonal levels and prevent the acne problems which bother many young women.
- Some research has indicated that women who consumed combination pills have a lesser chance of developing uterine cancer or ovarian cancer. This effect can last for up to 20 years after the person has stopped taking the pill.
- While ovarian cysts are not dangerous, they are quite often a painful experience. The pills can help in preventing the development of new cysts and can stop the older cysts from growing again. This is especially helpful for women suffering from PCOS.
- Many women suffer from a range of physical or emotional symptoms related to their menstrual cycles. The birth control pills offer relief from a premenstrual dysphoric disorder which is a complicated condition and hard to treat. The exact cause and remedy for this condition is still subject to further research.
- Patients suffering from endometriosis, a problem related to the tissue lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, can find relief from using birth control pills. The pills are helpful as they help such patients to skip periods.
- Many women who bleed heavily during the periods suffer from anaemia, resulting in weakness and fatigue. By allowing these patients to skip their periods, birth control pills can improve their condition.
What are the side effects of birth control pills?
In most cases, pills to prevent pregnancy do not result in health issues for young and healthy women. There are some cases where a patient can suffer the side effects of these pills but they usually go away within a few months.
These symptoms may include changes in the levels of sexual desire, bleeding between periods, sore breasts, nausea or headaches. Since there are multiple types of birth control pills, it is easy to choose the right variation that suits one’s body.
Vaginal bleeding is a common side effect of these pills but it usually gets resolved within a period of three months. This may be caused due to the change in the lining of the uterus or due to the alteration of the hormonal levels in the body. Severe cases involving heavy bleeding for multiple days will need consultation from a physician.
There can be nausea in some patients who take these pills. This generally gets cured within a few days and consuming the pills with food or at bedtime can help in avoiding these symptoms.
Some women can experience headaches and migraines after the consumption of anti- pregnancy pills. If the symptoms do not go away, a low-dose pill can be used to provide relief from the symptoms.
While clinical research has not found any direct link between these pills and weight gain, there can be some fluid retention in the hips and the breast. In many cases, some weight gain and decrease in lean body mass have been found as a side effect of birth control pills.
Some women can experience a missed period during the use of the pill. This can also be brought about through additional factors like stress, illness, travel, and hormonal or thyroid abnormalities.
The pills can also bring about a change in the sex drive or libido which may be in the form of a decrease or an increase. There is also a risk of thickening of the cornea in the eyes with the use of birth control pills. This can result in an uncomfortable fit for contact lenses and needs to be discussed with a doctor if there is any change in the vision.
The risks of birth control pills
The combination pills can give rise to some health complications like cardiovascular problems, such as blood clots, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), lung clots or heart attack. They can also result in an increase in blood pressure, benign liver tumours and some types of cancer. The patients who are affected by the following conditions can face such issues from the birth control pills.
- Women who are pregnant
- Smokers or anyone who stopped smoking within the last year and is over 35 years old
- Obese people
- Patients consuming certain medications
- Patients who have suffered a thrombosis, a stroke or a heart problem
- Patients with a close relative who had a blood clot before the age of 45 years
- Patients who suffer from severe migraines
- Patients with a history of breast cancer or disease of the liver or gallbladder
- Anyone suffering from who has had diabetes for at least 20 years
Individuals with a family history of blood clots, heart attack or stroke and suffering from high blood pressure should consult the doctor before long-term use of these pills. Women who have started using birth control pills at an early age are considered to have a higher risk of breast cancer.
Long term use of the pill has also been related to a higher risk of cervical cancer. At the same time, no relation has been found between birth control pills and the human papillomavirus, which is the major cause of cervical cancer. Oral anti-pregnancy tablets have also been linked with a higher rate of development of benign liver tumours but more research is required to ascertain the link.
It is necessary that women above 35 should check for glaucoma as well as evaluate their heart health through annual check-ups when they are using birth control pills. It is also important to keep in mind that these pills do not offer protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
FAQS regarding birth control pills
What are the other options of birth control other than pills?
There are multiple options for birth control other than pills. These include the use of condoms which are available for both males and females. There is also the option of using a contraceptive sponge which contains a spermicide, to kill the sperms. These sponges are placed inside the vagina. Other options include cervical caps and diaphragms. In some cases an implant is placed under the skin, which releases the hormone progestin to control ovulation.
How long can the pills be used?
The pills can be used as long as it is needed and there are no limits on the period of usage. Many women use it for years after consulting with their doctors to assess any chances of a long-term complication.
Will there be any problems in getting pregnant after using the pill?
These pills do not have any impact on the fertility of an individual and hence there will be no effect on pregnancy. On the other hand, patients suffering from symptoms like an irregular period will continue to have so after stopping the consumption of these pills.
How soon after stopping the birth control pill can a woman conceive?
Doctors are of the opinion that normal ovulation will begin within two weeks of stopping the consumption of the pill. The hormones provided from the pill will not remain in the system and the normal process of conception can take place.
What happens if the birth control pill is consumed while being pregnant?
There is very little evidence that points out the hormones in the pill can cause any harm to the foetus. Once pregnancy is confirmed, the consumption of the pill can be stopped.
What happens when the user misses the pill on a day?
For combination pills, the extra pill can be consumed the next day. If the pills are missed for multiple days, then it is best to use other means of contraception for the next seven days to avoid pregnancy. In the case of mini-pills, one has to consume an extra ill as soon as one remembers. Protection should be back after two days but it is best to use backup protection for one week.
The birth control pills offer 24/7 protection against pregnancy in a simple and convenient manner. If the instructions are followed effectively, it is one of the best ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies. At the same time, it must be noted that every person’s body is different and the effect of the pills on one person may not be the same as on another. In case a particular pill is generating problems for you, discuss with your physician to find the right alternative. You also need to be aware of the interactions of the pill with any other medication that you might be consuming. It is best to consider the pros and cons, judge the side effects and then choose the right pill.
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