Birth control pills are a special kind of medication that a woman can take orally every day in order to inhibit fertility and prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills are usually called “the pill” or oral contraception. Birth control pills are considered the most effective means of contraception. It is estimated that the pill works in 99% of cases, but only if a woman takes it according to the prescription. More than 100 million women worldwide use this kind of contraception.
Types of birth control pills
Birth control pills offer a couple of different choices. Standard birth control pill, known as the combined oral contraceptive pill, or simply “the pill”, includes a combination of an estrogen (oestrogen) and a progestin (progestogen). With these pills, a woman will continue having her menstrual periods every month. Another choice is a so-called mini pill. This oral contraceptive is also known as a progestogen-only pill or progestin-only pill. As the name suggests, this pill contains only synthetic progestogens (progestins) and does not contain estrogen. Continuous dosing birth control pills, such as a mini pill, may lead to periods only four times a year or to complete elimination of periods.
How does the birth control pill work?
Combined oral contraceptive pills work by preventing the ovulation, which happens as a result of suppressing the release of gonadotrophins. Gonadotrophins are protein hormones secreted by gonadotrope cells of the pituitary gland. These hormones are central to the complex endocrine system that regulates the normal growth, sexual development and reproductive function. The pill inhibits the follicular development and prevents ovulation. If ovulation does not take place, a mature egg cannot be released from the ovary and there are no sufficient conditions for fertilization.
The mini pill works by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the lining of the uterus. This way, the mini pill prevents the sperm from reaching the egg. The mini pill may also inhibit ovulation in approximately 50% of women who take it on a regular basis.
Birth control pill side effects
Birth control pills are generally considered safe. However, there are some common side effects associated with their use. Most birth control pills cause temporary headache, dizziness and breast tenderness. Nausea is also common, especially in the first couple of months of use. Menstrual spotting is also possible, especially with the mini pill. This is caused by thinning of the lining of the uterus, so that it sometimes sloughs off a bit. The periods will also become lighter and may even completely disappear. Mood swings and changes in libido are also one of the side effects associated with hormonal methods of birth control.