Oral contraceptive agents (birth control pills) are what most people think of when people talk about birth control. They are most commonly a combination of estrogen and progesterone. They are very effective if they are taken every day. Serious side effects from birth control pills are rare, and there are some non-contraceptive benefits of birth control pills as well.
Most birth control pills have both estrogen and progesterone. There is one type of pill, the “mini-pill”, that is progesterone only. Monophasic pills have the same dose of hormone the entire month except the last week has no hormone at all. Triphasic pills vary the level of hormone throughout the month with the last week being hormone free. Most types of birth control pills have a hormone free week each month, but some may only have a few days without hormone.
Most women will do well no matter which type of birth control pill they use. If a woman gets side effects from one type of birth control pill, a different variety can be tried. There are many different birth control pills on the market all with subtle differences. Even in very sensitive women, there is usually a pill that will be acceptable.
Another class of birth control pills is designed for a woman not to have a period each month. One type allows a period every three months, and one never allows a period. These pills are safe and effective but may cause spotting after a woman is on them for some time. For some women the random spotting is more annoying than regular predictable periods.
Most women tolerate birth control pills with no adverse effects. Some women will get nausea and breast tenderness, but these symptoms usually go away after a couple of weeks on the pill. Weight gain from the birth control pill is minimal. Most women do not gain weight on the birth control pills but gaining up to five pounds in the first year is possible. Serious side effects like high blood pressure, blood clots, heart disease, or stroke are extremely rare. Women who are over 35 and smoke are not candidates for birth control pills because of the significant increased risk of blood clots.
Birth control pills do provide medical benefits besides contraception. Many of the birth control pills help to decrease acne. Birth control pills also make the periods regular, lighter, and less painful. Birth control pills are thought to decrease the risk of both uterine and ovarian cancer.
The biggest downside to birth control pills is that they need to be taken every day. The pills should be taken around the same time each day, either morning or evening. Even one missed pill can lead to a pregnancy. If a pill is forgotten, the missed pill should be taken as soon as it is noticed. If two pills are forgotten they should be taken immediately and condoms used for one month. If three or more pills are missed, start a new pack and use condoms for one month. If pills are missed, this may affect the menstrual period. If you are finding that you are forgetting to take your pills, then you should see your doctor to talk about a different contraceptive agent.