Birth Control Pills (Oral Contraceptives)

How do they work?

fotolia_47490894The birth control pill works primarily by stopping ovulation (release of an egg). If there is no egg to meet the sperm, pregnancy cannot occur.  Additionally, the cervical mucous is thickened, which makes it difficult for sperm to get through.

What are the benefits?

In addition to preventing pregnancy (including ectopic pregnancy), oral contraceptive use results in:

  1. Regular, lighter and less painful periods, which are less likely to cause anemia
  2. Less ovarian cysts
  3. Less endometriosis
  4. Less pelvic inflammatory disease
  5. Regular use of birth control pills over several years is associated with a lifetime reduced risk of ovarian cancer, as well as reduced endometrial cancer.

Who should not take the pill?

  1. Women with a history of blood clots in the legs or lungs, stroke, coronary artery disease or women at high risk of these conditions
  2. Women with a history of cancer of the breast or reproductive organs
  3. Liver disease or history of jaundice with prior pill use
  4. Undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding
  5. Known or suspected pregnancy
  6. Women over 35 who smoke any amount of cigarettes

Who should be especially cautious about taking the pill?

  1. Women with hypertension can, in selected cases with close monitoring, take the pill
  2. Women with migraine headaches can, in selected cases with close monitoring take the pill. Those with migraine with aura should be especially cautious, as their risk of stroke is increased.

What are common side effects?

  1. Irregular bleeding
  2. Nausea, which can be minimized by taking the pill at bedtime
  3. Breast tenderness
  4. Fluid retention
  5. Lack of periods
  6. Menstrual migraine, though some women find their headaches to decrease on the pill. Most of these improve after the body becomes accustomed to the hormones in the pill (typically three months)