Everything You Need To Know About The Pill

Learn more about oral contraceptives.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Are you thinking about getting on the Pill? Or maybe you’re already on it, but still want a little more information on using it. Oral contraceptives are one of the most popular birth control methods available locally.

Learn more about them via the FAQs below, although don’t forget to consult your doctor before you decide to go on the Pill.

What is the Pill, and how does it work?

The phrase “the Pill” refers specifically to the combined oral contraceptive pill, which contains synthetic estrogen and progesterone, hormones women produce in their ovaries. This type of contraception works by attempting to stop ovulation, or the release of one of the woman’s eggs. This ideally prevents pregnancy, which occurs when sperm reaches a woman’s eggs, also known as ova.

What are the different kinds of oral contraceptives?

Combination pills, which is what most people are speaking of when they mention the Pill, contain artificial or synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone. There is also the “mini pill,” which is a progesterone-only pill that does not contain estrogen; these are recommended for women who are unable to take estrogen, usually due to health reasons.

How effective is the Pill?

Take the Pill correctly, and you’ll find it is over 99 percent effective when it comes to pregnancy prevention, reports to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS). Effectiveness may be compromised by incorrect dosage, skipping Pills, conflicting medication, and illness. See a doctor before using this contraceptive method yourself.

Do I have to take the Pill at the same time each day?

Yes; not doing so may result in less effective pregnancy prevention.

What happens if I miss a day?

Assuming you have only missed one pill, you should take it as soon as possible; if this means taking two pills at a time, this is all right. If you have missed two or more pills, consult your doctor. It is likely that, while you may continue to take your pills, you will also need to use extra contraception, like condoms, for the rest of your monthly cycle.

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Do I need a prescription for the Pill?

Yes. You should consult your doctor before going on this type of birth control, and you can ask for a prescription if you have decided on the Pill after speaking with him or her.

Will taking the Pill make me gain weight?

Weight gain is a common side effect of taking the Pill, but this is not a guarantee. Clinical studies have not definitively proven that there is a link between the Pill and weight gain, although it does promote fluid retention, which may be seen as weight gain.

Will taking the Pill make me break out?

If you are on the combined pill, it may actually help you clear your skin if you suffer from hormonal acne.

What side effects are associated with taking the Pill?

Some of the side effects you may experience while on the Pill include: intermenstrual spotting, nausea, tenderness in the breasts, headaches and migraines, weight gain, mood changes, missed periods, lower libido, and vaginal discharge. If you are using contact lenses, this may affect your sight as well. You may also experience more regular and lighter menstrual periods and may help reduce hormonal acne.

Can I take other medication alongside the Pill?

It is best to consult your doctor on this matter; some medications, like antibiotics, can compromise the effectiveness of the Pill.

What happens if I have diarrhea or vomit while on the Pill?

If diarrhea is mild and you vomit several hours after you took the Pill, this may not be an issue. If you throw up within two hours of taking the Pill, however, you should take another Pill immediately as the contraceptive would not have been absorbed you your body. If your illness persists or if your diarrhea is severe (meaning your stool is watery and you pass it six or more times in a 24-hour period), assume it is as if you have missed your Pill and use extra contraception.

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Can taking the Pill cause cancer or birth defects when I do decide to have children?

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies show that “the risks of breast and cervical cancers are increased in women who use oral contraceptives, whereas the risks of endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancers are reduced.”

There is no apparent increase in likelihood of birth defects when you take the Pill, as indicated by the Mayo Clinic. While there is research that suggests taking birth control pills around the time of conception increases risk of low birth rate and preterm birth, this has yet to be proven.

If you suspect you may be pregnant and are on the Pill or thinking of going on it, stop taking the contraceptive. Take a pregnancy test and/or see your doctor, particularly if the result of a home pregnancy test is positive. Use alternate forms of birth control until pregnancy is absolutely ruled out.

What are the pros and cons of this method?


Pros:

  • Does not require insertion or injection
  • Easy to use
  • Very effective pregnancy prevention method when used correctly and especially when combined with other methods
  • Decreases your risk of ovarian or uterine cancer, ovarian cysts, and more
  • Helps clear up hormonal acne

Cons:

  • Offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Must be taken at the same time daily to ensure effectiveness
  • Pre-existing medical conditions may make you ineligible for this type of birth control
  • Side effects may include nausea, headaches, increased fluid retention, and so on.


Is the Pill right for me?

There are a number of factors—including input from your gynecologist—that will determine this. Check out our article “Which birth control is right for me?” to learn about other birth control methods available to you, and make sure to consult your doctor before committing to any form of contraception.

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