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FAQ: Oral Contraceptive Pill

Here we’ve answered some of your frequently asked questions about oral contraceptives.

What is birth control?

Birth control is contraception. It is used to prevent pregnancy when engaging in sexual intercourse. There are many types of contraception, including, but not limited to: male and female condoms, oral contraceptive pills, hormonal implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, sterilisation.

Contraceptives for women include hormonal birth control methods, such as the oral contraceptive pill, hormonal implants, hormonal IUDs, spermicidal foams and gels, hormonal patches, hormonal rings and barrier methods like female condoms and diaphragms.

Contraceptives for men include male condoms and sterilisation.

How does birth control work?

The way birth control works depends on the method being used. Barrier methods, like condoms, work by stopping the sperm from reaching the egg. Hormonal contraceptives work by stopping ovulation and changing the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to get to the egg.

How do hormonal contraceptives work?

Hormonal birth control methods vary in how they work. Typically, hormonal contraceptives work by preventing ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus to prevent pregnancy.

Where can I get the oral contraceptive pill?

You can get the oral contraceptive pill from your GP or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic. If you’ve previously been prescribed the oral contraceptive pill you can buy it online.

Why do oral contraceptive pills contain oestrogen?

Oral contraceptive pills contain synthetic versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones control the processes that occur in the female body, and this is what thickens the mucus at the cervix and stops the ovaries releasing any eggs.

What types of contraceptive pills are there?

There are a few different contraceptive pills available, and these are divided into two main categories: the combined contraceptive pill and the progesterone-only pill (also known as the mini pill).

The combined oral contraceptive pill contains both oestrogen and progesterone. It works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg.

How to take birth control pills

Taking contraceptive pills is straightforward, but you should read the patient information leaflet in the pack in full before starting.

If you’re taking progesterone-only pills, you take one every day at the same time for 28 days. Start taking the pills from the section of the pack marked “start”. You start the next pack of pills the day after you have finished the previous one.

To take the combined pill, you take one every day for 21 days, then take a 7 day break. Following the 7 day break, you start a new pack of pills. If you aren’t sure when you should start your pack of pills, ask your nurse, pharmacist or doctor for advice.

How effective is the pill?

When taken correctly, the pill is 99% effective. However, if you do not take the pill exactly as laid out in the patient information leaflet, it will be less effective at preventing pregnancy.

How effective is birth control?

The effectiveness of birth control depends on the type of birth control you’re using. If taken correctly, the oral contraceptive pill is 99% effective.

What are the side effects of contraceptive pills?

Side effects of birth control pills vary from brand to brand. Generally, the most common side effects of contraceptive pills are headaches, stomach issues like nausea and vomiting, and bleeding or spotting between periods.

Combined pill side effects and mini pill side effects are not that different. As side effects vary from brand to brand, you should check the patient information leaflet included with your medication to verify any common side effects.  

What is the birth control pill with least side effects?

Whether or not you experience side effects depends on your body, rather than the pill itself. What may cause many side effects for one person will cause none for someone else.

Where can I get the contraceptive pill?

If you have been previously prescribed the contraceptive pill you can get it online from Instant eCare.

Can the pill make you tired?

Generally, the pill itself will not make you tired. If you feel tired while taking oral contraceptives talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

What is the best birth control for acne?

Birth control pills are often recommended to treat acne. Taking birth control for acneshould only be done after other acne treatments have proven unsuccessful. If you wish to take birth control for your acne it is vital that you talk to your doctor to make sure this is the right treatment for you.

Why do oral contraceptives cause cervical cancer?

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. It’s not clear how the pill increases the risk of cervical cancer.

Why do oral contraceptives cause blood clots?

Hormonal oral contraceptive use can slightly raise your risk of blood clots. This is because the combined pill which contains both oestrogen and progestogen slightly increases the concentration of blood clotting components. This then increases the likelihood of developing a clot.

Why do oral contraceptives cause hypertension?

Long-term use of oral contraceptives containing oestrogen can cause an increase in blood pressure and a much higher risk of hypertension, although it isn’t clear why this is.

It is known, however, that women are more susceptible to hypertension when taking oral contraceptives if they have other risk factors such as a family history of high blood pressure.

What would happen to a man if he took birth control pills?

Taking one or two contraceptive pills wouldn’t make a difference, but if a man took birth control pills regularly for a longer period of time, he might notice some physical changes. These might include growing breasts, shrinking testicles and a decrease to his sex drive and facial hair.

It’s also possible that higher levels of oestrogen in the body might put him at higher risk of prostate issues such as cancer or an enlarged prostate. Remember that you should never take medication that wasn’t prescribed for you.