Contraception - The contraceptive pill

The pill is best used for those women in a monogamous relationship.
This is because the pill does not protect you against HIV or any other STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). The pill has the highest rate of protection against falling pregnant (other than abstinence or sterilisation), with a 99% efficiency. This high rate of protection only falls with the woman skipping a pill, or not taking the pill correctly.

There are various pills available on the market; you need to speak to your doctor in order to choose the correct one for you. You may find certain side effects from specific pills, if they are unbearable, don't despair it might mean that type of pill is not right for you, and you can try a different one.
So how does it work?

There are two basic types of pills, the 'standard pill', and the 'mini pill'.

The standard pill is a combined hormone pill containing estrogen and progestogen. There are various types, and brands of this pill, containing different levels of these two hormones. Available now, is what is referred to as low dose pills - these contain smaller amounts of these hormones and have fewer side effects than the older pills.

The hormone estrogen acts upon the neuroendocrine system, this system controls the hypothalmic-pituitory-overain relationship (this occurs in the brain and is to do with release certain of hormones). Estrogen basically tricks the body into thinking that is pregnant, and causes the body to stop ovulating. It is during ovulation that the egg is released and can become impregnated by a sperm. So if this egg is not released then you can't get pregnant.

The hormone progestogen is in both the standard pill and the mini pill. Progesterone works the same in on the body for both of these pills. It works by producing the cervical mucus to become thicker so that is difficult for an egg to implant in the uterus. It also causes the environment in the uterus to be unfavourable for sperm and egg travel. So if the sperm can't reach the egg, or the fertilised egg can't implant, you can't get pregnant.

When it comes to taking the standard pills you must take it everyday at the same time, however for most of these pills there is a 12-hour window. So if you forget to take it at your normal time, then you have 12 hours to take it in. This can decrease the 99% efficiency of preventing pregnancy, so it is a good idea not to let this happen very often. If you skip a pill (and it's been more than 12 hours) don't take two to compensate, just take your next one on the following day as you normally would. However you will need to use an alternative form of contraception for the next 7 days, as you will not be protected from pregnancy (condoms are the most convenient).

If you are taking the mini pill you will need to be a lot stricter about your time of taking this pill. It is important you take it at the same time every day. So if you are the type to be forgetful, this is probably not the pill for you.


Side Effects

There are many side effects from the pill, if you choose to use this method of contraception, then you should receive an information leaflet about your specific pill. Side effects will vary from pill to pill due to the different levels of hormones that they may contain.

Some common side effects are:
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • Spotting between periods

Many of these side effects will subside after a few months as your body adjusts to the pill, although some may not.

More serious side effects:
  • Sudden breathlessness
  • Sudden & severe pain in the chest (that may run down to the arm)
  • Sudden loss of vision or double vision
  • Severe pain in one of your calves
  • Jaundice (liver function problems - a symptom that makes your eyes yellow in colour)

These side effects are rare, but if you suffer any one of them, stop taking the pill immediately and go to your doctor or nearest hospital.


If you suffer any of the following or at risk of, you may want to consider another alternative of contraception.
  • Depression (it can make it worse)
  • Migraines (you may suffer them more frequently)
  • A risk of blood clots in the legs
  • Diabetes
  • Varicose veins
  • If you have had kidney or liver problems
  • If you are a smoker and are over 30 years old

Do not take the pill if you are:
  • Breast feeding
  • Think you are pregnant
  • Have high blood pressure
  • If you have gall stones
  • If you have had circulatory problems e.g. thrombus.
    Benefits of the pill:
  • It is an easy form of contraception if you have a good memory
  • It has a high protection against pregnancy
  • Does not interfere with sex
  • Can ease premenstrual syndrome
  • Can reduce the severity of cramps suffered during menstruation
  • Periods are usually shorter and lighter
  • Can protect against some cancers of the ovaries and uterus
  • Keeps your cycle regular, so that you know exactly when your period is coming
  • You can use it to skip your period by not taking the 7 inactive pills and going straight on to the next cycle of hormonal pills
    Remember if you choose to use the pill as a form of contraception, it will only protect you against pregnancy, and not from sexually transmitted diseases, and that includes HIV. So it is best used if you are sleeping with one partner whom you trust.


    - Louise Ganey
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