Birth Control Pills: Things You Need to Know

The method of birth control you take is based on your personal choice, and there are a lot of choices available in the market. For sexually active women, birth control pills are a great option.

Oral contraceptives or birth control pills are effective medications taken by mouth to avoid pregnancy. To determine if birth control pills are a suitable choice for you, learn how they work and their known side effects in this review.

What kinds of birth control pills are there?

Combination pills

As their name implies, they contain estrogen and progestin in synthetic (made in the laboratory) forms. The majority of the tablets in every cycle are active, meaning they are composed of hormones. While the rest of the pills are inactive, meaning they don’t have any hormones in them. Combination tablets come in a variety of forms:

Monophasic pills

These types are utilized once a month. Every active pill contains the same amount of hormone. In the last week of the cycle, you must take the inactive pills and expect to have your monthly period.

Multiphasic pills

These types of pills work on a one-month cycle basis to provide varying hormone levels during the course of the cycle. In the last week of the given cycle, you shall take the inactive pills and expect to have your monthly period.

Extended-cycle pills

These are generally taken in a cycle of 13 weeks, but the active pills must be taken for 12 weeks. During the cycle’s last week, you shall have your monthly period once you take the inactive pills. Therefore, you can expect to have your period around 3-4 times in a year only.

Here is a list of combination pills in their brand names:

  • Azurette
  • Enpresse
  • Beyaz
  • Estrostep Fe
  • Levora
  • Kariva
  • Loestrin
  • Ocella
  • Natazia
  • Low-Ogestrel
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Seasonale
  • Velivet
  • Seasonique
  • Yaz
  • Yasmin

Progestin-only pills

This type of pill is also known as mini pill and is composed of progestin with no estrogen. Progestin-only pills are highly recommended for those who can’t take estrogen due to health conditions. For pills containing progestin only, every pill in the cycle is rendered active. And since there are no associated inactive pills, a woman taking this pill may or may not have a monthly period.

Some brand names of progestin-only pills are:

  • Errin
  • Camila
  • Jencycla
  • Heather
  • Ortho Micronor
  • Nor-QD

Deciding which birth control pill is best for you

With their unique features, not all types of pill are suited for all women. Consult your doctor about which pill of choice best matches your condition. Factors affecting such choice are the following:

  • if you are nursing a child
  • your most common menstruation symptoms
  • the state of your heart health
  • medications you may be taking
  • various chronic illnesses you may be suffering from

Birth control pills and their mechanism of action 

There are two ways that combination pills work. One way is that they  stop the body from ovulation. This implies your ovaries will not produce an egg every month. Another way these medications work is by causing the cervical mucus to thicken. This mucus is a fluid that surrounds your cervix and aids sperm in reaching your uterus to fertilize an egg. Sperm cannot enter the uterus because of the thicker mucus.

Birth control pills that are progestin-only function in a variety of ways. They primarily function by thickening cervical mucus and thinning endometrium. The endometrium is the uterine lining that serves as the place where an egg stays after it has been fertilized. If the uterine lining is thinner, it will be more difficult for an egg to implant, preventing a pregnancy from developing. Progestin-only tablets may also inhibit ovulation.

What is the best way to take birth control pills?

Combination pills are available in a range of packages. Monthly packs may be one of three categories: 21, 24, and 28-day cycles. For extended regimens, the 91-day cycles can be followed. You take one tablet at the same time everyday in all of these formulations.

On the other hand, Progestin-only tablets are only available in 28-count packets. You take one tablet every day at the same hour, just like with combination pills.

Effectiveness of birth control pills

As long as you take them correctly, all birth control pills are generally effective to prevent pregnancy. As per Center for Disease Control (CDC), the combination pills as well as the progestin-only pills have only 9% failure rates (Trusted Source) with normal use. If we apply it as an example, only 9 out of 100 women who take it will get pregnant.

To maintain its effectiveness, it is highly recommended to take the progestin pills within the three-hour range of time period each day.

Combination pills offer slight flexibility. Generally, it is advised to take the combination pill at the same hour of each day. But don’t worry if you missed the scheduled hour, since you can still take it within a 12-hour window. When it happens, you can still get the pregnancy protection you need.

Some medications can render such types of pills less effective. And here are the notable ones:

  • HIV medications (lopinavir in particular)
  • rifampin (an anti-tuberculosis antibiotic)
  • saquinavir
  • St. John’s wort
  • anti seizure medicines (like topiramate and carbamazepine)

Some other conditions may lessen the effectiveness of birth control pills. Examples of these are diarrhea and vomiting. So if you have problems with your gastrointestinal tract, consult your doctor to check the risks of getting pregnant. Using other methods of contraception as backup or another layer of protection is useful until otherwise unnecessary.

What are the advantages of taking birth control pills?

Several benefits that birth control pills can offer are the following:

  • They are generally effective. In fact, they offer better protection against pregnancy compared to most birth control methods.
  • Its protection works 24/7. You don’t have to worry a lot about your protection during intimate moments.
  • They can be fully reversible. This implies that if you decide to get pregnant later on, you can stop taking them and switch your monthly cycle to normal.
  • They can help in regulating the menstrual cycle. For women with irregular, heavy or painful periods, they can benefit from taking birth control pills.

Some other benefits can rise, depending on the pill of choice. As for combination pills, a women may also benefit from it by avoiding:

  • ectopic pregnancy
  • pimples/acne
  • weaker bones
  • ovarian and endometrial cancer
  • benign (non-cancerous) breast growths
  • anemia
  • painful menstrual cramps
  • heavy periods

On the other hand, progestin-only pills offer safety for women who:

  • smoke cigarettes
  • has difficulty tolerating estrogen therapy
  • are 35 years old and above
  • plans to breastfeed
  • have a blood clotting history

What are the downsides associated with birth control pills?

Primarily, birth control pills have no capacity to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But you can opt to use condoms aside from the daily pill to avoid such infections.

Meanwhile, remember to take the pill on a daily basis. Then, always make sure to have a refill ready when you finish your current one. Once you start missing a pill or getting delays in starting another pack, the risk of getting pregnant increases.

Risks and side effects of birth control pills

Although they are generally safe for most women, birth control pills also come with risks and side effects. Each woman’s body may react differently to the hormones incorporated into a birth control pill. Some of the side effects are:

  • nausea
  • decreased sex drive
  • breast tenderness
  • bleeding between periods

If you experience side effects like these, observe them over time as they ought to improve after several months of taking itl. Otherwise, consult your doctor if he/she has another suggestion with regards to birth control options. 


One serious risk of taking birth control pills is that they can cause blood clots, especially if you choose combination pills. This risk may lead to any of the following events:

  • heart attack
  • deep vein thrombosis
  • pulmonary embolism
  • stroke

All in all, the risk of developing blood clots due to taking any type of birth control pill is relatively low. In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believes that less than 10 out of 10,000 women would experience blood clotting after over 12 months of taking a combination pill. Aside from that, the risk of blood clots does not outweigh the benefit of avoiding pregnancy.

But for some women taking the pill, the risk of developing a blood clot might be higher. These are the women who:

  • have increased blood pressure
  • are overweight
  • spends longer time of bed rest

If you have one of these factors, discuss with your physician about taking birth control pills and its risks.

When to talk with your doctor

With the wide selection of birth control options in the market today, the birth control pill is undoubtedly one of the excellent options. However, there are many factors you should consider in choosing one. And in order to find the option that suits you best, seek medical advice from your doctor. When you schedule a consultation, you may want to think of questions to ask beforehand, such as:

  • Which specific type of birth control pill is best for me?
  • Do I qualify in the population with a high risk of developing blood clots due to the pill?
  • Are my medications safe to be taken with a birth control pill?
  • What other methods of birth control should I check first?
  • What effective ways can I make sure not to forget my schedule of taking the pill?