A Complete Guide to Oral Contraceptives

There are a lot of birth control options available today. The most popular and effective choice is the birth control pill or the “Pill” as it commonly known. Oral contraceptives help prevent pregnancies and are 99% effective. The pill is safe, simple, and convenient, which is why it’s so popular. Unlike condoms, the pill does not interrupt sex in any way so it makes sense that women prefer it.

These birth control pills contain a combination of two hormones or contain just one hormone. Combination pills are more commonly used. The hormones in the pill help in preventing pregnancy by maintaining a constant level of hormones. It is better to take these pills everyday for maximum effect. However, users should be informed that oral contraceptives cannot protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Oral contraceptives were introduced in the United States in the 1960’s. Nearly a hundred million women use birth control pills worldwide, and in United States, twelve million women are on the pill. Each woman is different in terms of weight, menses types, and ovarian sensitivity so it’s always better to check with your doctor for the best option. Now, let’s look at how the pill works, who can take it, how it should be taken, the choices, and side effects.

Estrogen and Progesterone

These are two main hormones that help in ovulation. They control the working of the uterus and ovaries. Estrogen prepares the uterus lining for receiving an egg and the progesterone decreases the amount of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. During pregnancy, the levels of these hormones are high so the fertilization of eggs is prevented. Birth Control pills are a combination of these hormones that “fool” the body into thinking it is pregnant, thus preventing ovulation.

  • Estrogen & Progesterone: Provides vital information about the roles of these two hormones in oral contraceptives.
  • Cancer Risk: Explains how estrogen and progesterone can impact the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Side Effects: Shows some of the side effects related to estrogen and progestin.
  • Birth Control Options: Describes how estrogen-progesterone contraceptive pills work.

How Oral Contraceptives Work

Oral contraceptives are a combination of estrogen and progesterone in different strengths. These pills change the hormone balance in your body and stop ovulation. No egg is released from the ovary. It thickens the mucus in the cervix to decrease the chances of the sperm entering the uterus. The pill also thins the uterus lining, making it difficult for the egg to attach.

Why Oral Contraceptives are Prescribed

Oral Contraceptives are mainly prescribed as a birth control method. Some brands of pills help reduce the occurrence of acne. It helps reduce the physical and emotional symptoms that occur prior to the periods. Oral contraceptives are also helpful in regulation of irregular periods or heavy menstruation. They can also be used to treat endometriosis (when the uterus lining grows in other parts and causes pain or irregular periods).


The pill is normally taken orally everyday or all days of your regular cycle. It should be taken at the same time every day for it to be effective and not less frequently than prescribed. In case of nausea, it can be taken with milk or food. You can be on the 21 day, 28 day or 91 day pill. In case of 21 day pill, you take the pill for 21 days with a break for 7 days before resuming it. With the 28 day pill, you have to take a pill every day. The last seven are usually dummy pills with a different color, mostly containing iron or vitamins, to remind you to take the next set of pills. The 91 day pills contain three rows of medicines. Start with the first row and continue as described on the instructions. Check with you doctor on when to start and which pill to use. If you miss a pill, you need to use a backup method of birth control for a week after. The same is applicable if you are vomiting or having diarrhea.

  • How to Use: Shows how to use oral contraceptives effectively.
  • Usage: Provides some information about usage of 21 day and 28 day pills.

Special Precautions

Prior to taking the pill, check with your doctor to see if it is safe to take the pill. Women who have migraines, blood clots, cancer or vaginal bleeding other than during periods are advised not to take the pill. Inform your doctor if you are on any other medication or are allergic to any medicines. In case you are going for a surgery, you have to inform the doctor that you are on birth control pills. Family history of asthma, diabetes, heart problems must also be revealed. It is advisable to not smoke while taking the pills as it increases the risk of side effects.

  • Special Precautions: Outlines the special precautions to be followed before taking the pill.
  • Precautions: Provides the guidelines on oral contraceptive precautions according to the World Health Organization.

Side Effects

A lot of the women who are on the pill do not feel any side effects. In some cases, women may experience nausea, headaches, irregular periods, dizziness, breast tenderness, changes in mood, tiredness, and other side effects. There could also be a rise in blood pressure so it’s advisable to check your blood pressure every six months.

  • Adverse Effects: Brief description of some of the adverse effects related to oral contraceptives.
  • Side Effects: Outlines some of the side effects associated with the pill.
  • Possible Side Effects: Discusses the possible side effects of using oral contraceptives.
  • Major Side Effects: Short section with information on the major side effects of taking the pill.
  • Blood Clots: Explains how blood clots may occur with usage of oral contraceptives.
  • Risks: Outlines some of the risks of oral contraceptives.


You can choose the 21 day or 28 day pill depending on your requirement. If you have irregular periods then you could choose a pill with more estrogen and if you have cramps then a pill with higher progesterone potency could help. First time users can opt for a low estrogen pill. You should choose a pill depending on your requirement. Again, it’s important to check with your doctor to know the best choice for you. Other than these types, there are lots more choices in the market.

  • Seasonique: The official website of the 4 periods a year oral contraceptive pill.
  • Seasonale: Focuses on many aspects of this extended-cycle oral contraceptive pill.
  • About Seasonique: Discusses how the pill works, usage, effectiveness, side effects, and more.
  • COCs: Offers information on 21-Day and 28-Day oral contraceptive pills.
  • Continuous Birth Control: A look at continuous birth control pills like Seasonale, Seasonique, and Yaz.
  • Lybrel: Homepage of the no-period oral contraceptive pill.
  • Nortrel 7/7/7: Provides information on this 28-Day pill.
  • Acne Treatment: Discusses the effectiveness of COCs in the treatment of acne.
  • Yaz: The only oral contraceptive pill for treatment of PMMD.
  • List of Birth Control Pills: Here is a comprehensive list of the brands of oral contraceptives on the market.

Additional Information

  • Decreased Libido: Explores whether oral contraceptives reduce sex drive.
  • Myths: Examines some of the myths associated with oral contraceptives.
  • Pros & Cons: Reveals some of the advantages and disadvantages of oral contraceptives.

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