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Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills, or oral contraception, are made of hormones that prevent eggs from leaving the ovaries and/or by thickening the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from getting to any eggs that may exist. Often times you can choose between a combination pill (containing both estrogen and progestin) or progestin-only pills.

Quick Facts About Birth Control Pills

They are 99% effective.

You can choose between combination estrogen and progesterone pills, or progesterone-only pills.

They must be taken daily.

New types are offered in lower dosages.

They can control bleeding.

They may help painful periods.

They can improve acne.

They are reversible.

How Effective Are Birth Control Pills?

Birth control pills are generally extremely effective. Progestin-only oral contraceptive pills, however, must be taken at the same time every day in order for your hormones to maintain the correct levels.

Many women hear that the pill can lose its effectiveness. This is true is some circumstances, including if you are overweight or have frequent diarrhea or vomiting. There are also some medications that can impact the effectiveness of the pill, including St. John’s wort, certain HIV medications, Rifampin (an antibiotic), Griseofulvin (an antifungal), and certain anti-seizure medicines.

The Risks

Most side effects associated with birth control pills are minor and subside over time. They include breast tenderness, nausea and vomiting, and bleeding between periods.

There are serious side effects associated with taking the pill — although these are not common. Progestin-only pills have a lower risk of these serious side effects compared to combination pills. Serious side effects include blood clots and heart problems due to an increase in the blood’s potassium levels. Other rare side effects associated with combination birth control pills include heart attack, stroke, blood clots, liver tumors and jaundice. While these risks are not common, they increase for women who are older than 35 as well as women who are overweight, have diabetes, need prolonged bed rest, are smokers, have high cholesterol or have inherited blood clotting disorders.

The Benefits

There are many benefits linked to the pill. In fact, there are so many benefits, that women who don’t need to take this oral contraception still choose to do so because the pill protects them against acne, bone thinning, iron deficiency, breast and ovary cysts, cramps, and heavy or irregular periods.