Birth Control Pills for Women: Types and Side Effects

Contraceptive pills are pills that a woman takes every day to prevent pregnancy. The pills, which contain man-made forms of the hormones estrogen and progestin, prevent sperm from entering the uterus. It is estimated that in 2020, around sixty percent of all women in their reproductive years use some form of contraception to prevent pregnancy. Many women choose birth control pills for their ease of use, availability, safety, usually limited side effects, additional health benefits and effectiveness. An extensive consultation with and examination by the doctor is necessary before the doctor prescribes these prescription medications.

  • Synonyms of birth control pills
  • Operation
  • Pregnancy
  • Function of pills
  • Types of contraception for women
  • Combination pill
  • Minipill
  • Consultation and examination with the doctor
  • Intake
  • Combination pills
  • Minipill
  • Extended cycle
  • Effectiveness
  • Forget
  • Contraindication of oral contraceptives
  • Side effects of the pill


Synonyms of birth control pills

Birth control pills are also known as oral contraceptives, oral contraceptives or ‘the pill’. ‘Oral’ means: by mouth.


Thanks to the pill it is possible to prevent pregnancy / Source: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay


A woman becomes pregnant when an egg released from her ovary is fertilized by a man’s sperm. The fertilized egg attaches to the lining of a woman’s uterus, where it is nourished and develops into a baby. Hormones in the woman’s body regulate the release of the egg from the ovary (ovulation) and prepare the body to accept the fertilized egg.

Function of pills

Hormonal contraceptives such as the pill contain man-made forms of two hormones, namely estrogen and progestin. These hormones are naturally produced in a woman’s ovaries. Birth control pills contain both hormones or only progestin. These hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors.

  • Both hormones prevent a woman’s ovary from releasing an egg during her menstrual cycle (ovulation: ovulation).
  • The hormones also change the levels of the natural hormones that the body produces.
  • Progestins also make the mucus around a woman’s cervix thick and sticky. This prevents sperm from entering the uterus.


Types of contraception for women

Combination pill

This type of pill contains both estrogen and progestin. Combination birth control pills prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. They also slow the progress of an egg through the fallopian tubes, thicken cervical mucus and thin the lining of the uterus (endometrium). As a result, the sperm does not join the egg. There is a wide variety of combination pills. This depends on how often a woman wishes to menstruate as well as on the dose of hormones that best suits the woman.
Standard Pill
Standard packs of the pill usually contain 21 active pills and 7 inactive pills, or 24 active pills and 4 inactive pills. A woman experiences bleeding every month when taking the inactive pills.
Extended Cycle Pill / Continuous Dosing
Another option for hormonal contraceptives is the extended cycle pill. This contains the same hormones as other contraceptive pills, but the woman takes the hormones in a longer cycle. This reduces the number of menstrual periods from thirteen menstrual periods per year to just four per year. This means that a woman who uses this pill will only have her period once per season. These types of oral contraceptives contain the same combination of two hormones that are often used in other hormonal contraceptives. But the woman has to take this pill continuously for twelve weeks, followed by one week of inactive pills, which results in a menstrual cycle. There are also other forms of extended cycle pills that use the same hormones. These pills use estrogen in the last week.
Monophasic Pills and Multiphasic Pills
Combination pills are also classified based on the dose of hormones in the active pills (same or variable). With monophasic combination pills, each active pill contains the same amounts of estrogen and progestin . With multi-phase pills, the amounts of hormones in active pills vary.


The minipill is a type of contraceptive pill that contains only progestin and no estrogen. These are pills that contain only one hormone (progestin). In each pack of pills, all pills contain the same amount of progestin and all pills are active. The doctor prescribes these pills to women who are breastfeeding or to women who suffer from nausea or other side effects of estrogen. Mini pills thicken the cervical mucus, so that the sperm cannot reach the egg. The hormone in the pills also changes the uterine lining, which probably prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. In some cases, minipills prevent the release of an egg. If a woman uses the minipills consistently and correctly, they are approximately 95% effective (slightly less effective than standard birth control pills).

The doctor must be aware of the woman’s medication use / Source: Stevepb, Pixabay

Consultation and examination with the doctor

It is important to consult with your doctor in advance whether and which type of contraceptives are most suitable. He advises the woman about what she can expect from the pills and what the possible side effects are. For this he needs to know the lifestyle and preferences of the woman. The doctor must also be aware of the use of prescribed as well as over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements and herbs. Some medications, including antibiotics and antiepileptics, reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills. Furthermore, a woman’s medical history is essential because the pill is sometimes not recommended. All women who use oral contraceptives need a medical check-up by the doctor at least once a year. Women should also have their blood pressure checked three months after starting to take the pill.


Combination pills

Birth control pills only work well if the woman takes her pill daily without missing a single day. It is best to take the pills at the same time every day. A woman can take the pill at any time of the day, but if she takes the pill before breakfast or before bed, it is easier to remember.


It is very important to take the mini pills (progestin only) at exactly the same time every day. If a woman misses a pill or is more than three hours late for a pill, she should take the pill as soon as she remembers and use a backup method (such as a condom or spermicide) for the next 48 hours.

Extended cycle

The woman starts taking the pill on the first Sunday after menstruation begins. If menstruation begins on a Sunday, the woman begins taking the pill on that day. A woman then takes one active tablet per day for 84 consecutive days. Depending on the type of pill she takes, she has seven days to take one placebo or estrogen pill per day.


When a woman takes the pills as prescribed , they are usually effective within the first month after taking them. To be on the safe side, some doctors recommend using another form of contraception during the first month (such as condoms). After the first month, a woman can rely on the pill for contraception.


If a woman forgets to take a birth control pill, she takes it as soon as she remembers. If she only remembers the next day that she forgot to take it the day before, she takes two pills that day. If the woman has doubts or forgets to take the pill for several days, it is best to contact the doctor. Any time she forgets to take oral contraception, it is important to use another method of contraception to prevent pregnancy.

Contraindication of oral contraceptives

Most women can safely take birth control pills. However, they are not recommended for women over 35 who smoke. Non-smoking women may use hormonal contraceptives until menopause. In addition, hormonal contraceptives are not recommended in:

  • blood clots in the arms, legs or lungs
  • a serious heart condition
  • a serious liver disease
  • uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • cancer: breast cancer or uterine cancer
  • migraine with aura


Headache is a possible side effect of the pill / Source: Concord90, Pixabay

Side effects of the pill

Birth control pills can cause many side effects. These include:

  • blood clots (rare but dangerous)
  • abdominal pain (rare)
  • a stroke (rare but dangerous)
  • a weight gain
  • a heart attack (rare but dangerous)
  • high blood pressure (rare but dangerous)
  • swelling and pain in the legs and thighs (rare)
  • headache (mild) or a worsening of migraine (usually due to oestrogens)
  • stomach pain (rare)
  • nausea
  • chest pain (rare)
  • sore or tender breasts; or swollen breasts
  • mood swings
  • changes in menstrual cycles, no or lighter menstrual cycles, extra menstrual bleeding, small amounts of blood, or spotting between periods: Regular menstrual cycles return within three to six months after a woman stops using most hormonal birth control methods.
  • blurred vision (rare)

Contraceptive pills without estrogen are much less likely to cause these problems. The risk is greater for women who smoke or have a history of high blood pressure (hypertension), clotting disorders or unhealthy cholesterol levels. However, the risks of developing these complications are much lower with either type of pill than with pregnancy.

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