A Guide To Oral Contraceptives For Birth Control

By Delialah Falcon. May 7th 2016

For many women, oral contraceptives are among the most popular choices to prevent pregnancy. Commonly referred to as birth control pills, oral contraceptives are a very effective means of contraception when taken properly. However, they do not protect you from the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Oral contraceptives are available by prescription only, so a visit with your doctor or gynecologist is required prior to starting this type of birth control method.

Types Of Oral Contraceptives

Though there are numerous brand names, there are only two major types of birth control pills. Women opting for oral contraceptives can start on pills that are a combination of the two female hormones estrogen and progestin. Alternately, there are pills that contain progestin alone. Both types have proven effective with standard use, but when used consistently without ever missing a dose, the combination pill has been proven most successful in the prevention of pregnancy. It is therefore the more widely chosen option.

How Do They Work?

Oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy in a combination of ways. The hormones in birth control pills prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs and change the lining of a women’s uterus as to not accept a pregnancy. If after ovulation one of the eggs were fertilized by a sperm, the lining of the uterus would naturally thicken in order to provide a soft cushiony place for the egg to implant. Hormonal changes associated with oral contraceptives prevent the lining from thickening, thereby eliminating the possibility of an egg form implanting. In addition, birth control pills thicken cervical mucus which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.

Where To Obtain Them

Oral contraceptives are available by prescription only. There are several different types of birth control pills, each with varying levels of hormones.

  • You will need to make an appointment with your doctor or gynecologist to discuss the appropriate birth control pill for you.
  • Keep in mind that you will require a check up with your prescribing doctor once a year and have your blood pressure monitored at least every three months while taking birth control pills.
  • Additionally, upon your initial doctor’s visit, you will need to disclose your current and past medical history to your physician.
  • Furthermore, you will need to bring a list of all medications and herbal supplements you may be taking and share them with your doctor. Certain medications may cause or contribute to side effects or have negative drug interactions when taken with birth control pills.

Are They Safe?

Oral contraceptives are a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy. Though there are reported side effects, most women who take them generally have little to no side effects at all. As long as there are no previous medical conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, a personal history of breast cancer, or a history of smoking combined with an age of 35 or older, the pill is considered to be a very safe contraceptive for most women.

Possible Side Effects

Oral contraceptives may cause side effects, although most women who use them experience little or no side effects. Common side effects may include nausea or vomiting, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness or spotting between periods.

  • Nausea and vomiting may easily be controlled by taking the pill with food rather than on an empty stomach.
  • Other common side effects may only be experienced within the first two to three months of starting birth control pills and will decrease in severity as your body adjusts to the medication.
  • Additionally, birth control pills are available in a wide range of hormone levels. Prescription strengths can be lowered by switching to a different type of pill if unwanted side effects develop.

More serious side effects are less common, but if you experience them you should contact your doctor immediately. Serious side effects include:

  • Severe persistent headache
  • Severe vomiting
  • Coughing up blood
  • Numbness in your legs or arms
  • Fainting
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Uncontrolled or extremely heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Bleeding that lasts longer than seven days

These serious side effects may indicate life threatening medical problems that should be addressed at once. Along with side effects, there are certain risks associated with oral contraceptives, especially if you have other factors that may hinder your use of birth control pills. For instance if you suffer from diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, have a history of blood clots or heart disease, or if you are a smoker or over age 35, then using birth control pills may worsen current or mounting health issues. If you have any of these risk factors and are considering using oral contraceptives as a means of birth control, contact your doctor to determine if oral contraceptives are the right choice for you.

Effect On Menstrual Cycle

Oral contraceptives contain hormones that influence the menstrual cycle in different ways, depending on the type of pill that you are taking. The most common pills regulate your menstruation by replicating a 28-day cycle. These pills are effective in treating abnormal menstrual periods. There are now several pills on the market that may extend your menstrual cycle and reduce the number of periods you have each year. There are also other types of birth control pills that can essentially do away with periods all together. The effect on menstruation will depend greatly on the specific type of birth control pill that you take.

Other Uses

Aside from preventing pregnancy, birth control pills may be used to control or treat other common issues among women.

  • For example, a woman may be prescribed birth control pills simply to regulate an irregular menstrual cycle. Because oral contraceptives help to balance out a woman’s hormones, the timing of the menstrual cycle becomes very precise and the first day of the menstrual cycle can be predicted accurately. This is helpful for women who may skip a month of menstruation or those who experience excess bleeding during a period, or bleeding in-between periods.
  • In addition, the hormones contained in oral contraceptives may be helpful in controlling or eliminating acne, as well as treating symptoms of endometriosis.
  • Furthermore, birth control pills may be used to treat the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a condition that is linked to depression associated with menstrual cycle.

How To Stop Taking Them To Achieve Pregnancy

If you are on birth control pills and you decide that you are ready to try to get pregnant, here’s a list of things you need to know:

  • You should finish out your current cycle of pills first. Stopping birth control pills abruptly can throw your hormones out of balance and may cause irregular bleeding.
  • Once you finish your current cycle, do not start another pack of pills. Although It is possible to conceive within the first two weeks after stopping birth control pills, many doctors recommend waiting until after your first regular menstrual cycle without oral contraceptives.
  • It may take a while for your periods to return to normal. Some women are fertile the day that they stop taking birth control pills, but for others it may take a few months to start ovulating again.
  • If more than three months have passed and you still have not had your period, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Bottom Line

Oral contraceptives are a common choice for women attempting to prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills are generally considered very safe and most women who start them will not experience any serious side effects. If you are thinking of using oral contraceptives, consult your doctor to determine which type is best for you and to obtain a prescription. When taken properly, birth control pills are an effective way to prevent pregnancy. Because they do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, it is important to use a barrier method for added protection.


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