HOW do birth control pills WORK? These small pills contain hormones that stop eggs from leaving the ovaries. Birth control pills thicken the mucus at the cervix (opening to the uterus) so that sperm can't swim through and enter the uterus to fertilize an egg and cause pregnancy, and they thin out the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg could not implant.
HOW are birth control pills USED? One pill is taken at the same time each day for the first 21 days of a woman's 28 day menstrual cycle. Then for the next 7 days the woman continues taking a "pill," but it isn't a birth control pill (it actually contains no hormones at all and has no effect on the woman's reproductive cycle). These "reminder pills" are taken just because it's easier to remember to take a pill every day than have to wonder, "Is this a day I'm supposed to take a pill or not?" When she's taking these reminder pills, she will get her period, which is actually a withdrawal symptom from not having the pill's hormones in her body for a couple of days. A medical examination is needed before a doctor writes a prescription for birth control pills. Women just starting out on the Pill need to use a back-up form of birth control for the first month (as added protection until their bodies get used to the pill).
Benefits to using birth control pills: Pills are easy to use. They don't interrupt sex. (That means if you are about to have sexual intercourse you don't have to stop and use this form of birth control before you can continue.) They may decrease menstrual cramps and make periods more regular. They decrease the risk of certain kinds of cancer (ovarian and endometrial - lining of the uterus) and breast problems. Birth control pills provide protection against Fallopian tube infection.
Concerns connected to using birth control pills: Some women experience minor side effects while on the Pill. These include: nausea, bloated feelings, light or missed periods, spotting between periods, weight gain or loss, tender breasts, mood changes. If these happen, do not stop the Pill. Call your clinic or doctor. You can be put on a different kind of birth control pill that will offer you the same protection from pregnancy without the side effects.
Some medical risks from use of birth control pills: Increased risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke in women with certain risk factors, medical conditions or in those who smoke. Call the clinic or your doctor right away for severe leg, chest, or stomach pain; blurred vision; bad headaches; numbness; shortness of breath.
Effectiveness. When used properly, birth control pills offer 97-99.9% effectiveness. The high number results from taking the Pill exactly according to directions every single day. The lower number means that means in a year, for every 100 women using the Pill, 3 will result in an unwanted pregnancy.
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last updated January 30, 2008
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