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Birth Control Spotlight - The Pill

On October 15, 1951, Dr. Carl Djerassi synthesized the first steroid oral contraceptive, for which he was awarded the National Medal of Science. Reproduction would never be the same again. The Pill was the very first commercially available form of birth control in the world, and it truly revolutionized women’s lives.

The Pill – when taken correctly – is one of the most reliable non-permanent forms of birth control that exists. It is 99.6% effective, as long as you remember to take it every day.

“The Pill” is the common name for a variety of different kinds of oral contraceptives. There are two kinds: combination and progestin-only pills.

According to Planned Parenthood, “Combination pills usually work by preventing a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation). They also thicken the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from joining with an egg. Progestin-only pills usually work by thickening the cervical mucus. Less often, they prevent ovulation.”

According to Dr. Mary Jane Bovo’s Contraception Guide, “Man-made hormones…mimic the ones your body naturally produces monthly. Estrogen prevents the egg from maturing and being released from the ovary. No egg – no pregnancy.”

It is important to take The Pill everyday at the same time each day to maintain the levels of hormones to prevent pregnancy.

Many women take The Pill to regulate their menstrual cycles and reduce the symptoms of PMS. My doctor recommended The Pill to shrink my ovarian cysts.

There are many different kind of pills available – both name brand and generic – with a variety of different side effects. If you are experiencing problems with your Pill, consult with your doctor immediately. Another formula may work better for you. The first Pill I took completely eliminated my sex drive. The second time around, I tried a different brand and thankfully that side effect disappeared!

The combination pill comes in either a 21 or 28 day pack. There are three weeks of “active hormones” in both kinds. You get your period during the fourth week. The 28 day pack contains a week of “placebos” or “reminder pills” designed to keep you in the routine of taking a pill each day.

Progestin-only pills come in 28 day packs and ALL THE PILLS ARE ACTIVE.


PROS:

* The Pill has a failure rate of less than 1% when taken correctly.

* Periods become regular and predictable. One benefit will be planning a good time to visit the gynecologist for your annual exam…

* Combination pills can be used to change the timing and frequency of your period. Active pills may be taken continuously to delay your period. This may be handy when planning a vacation or celebrating your anniversary…

* The combination type offers some protection for acne, cancer of the lining of the uterus, cancer of the ovaries, ectopic pregnancy, excess body hair, iron deficiency anemia that can result from heavy menses, noncancerous breast growths, osteoporosis, ovarian cysts, premenstrual symptoms (as well as related headaches and depression), vaginal dryness and painful intercourse related to menopause.

* Using The Pill does not interfere with sexual activity.

* It is easy to use, and simple to stop if you do decide to become pregnant.

* If your insurance plan covers birth control, The Pill is almost universally covered. As with many prescription plans, you may need to opt for the generic version in order for it to be covered.

* Most doctors will not renew your prescription without an annual exam. This forces those who tend to put off such visits (like myself) to schedule an appointment, which may help your doctor detect serious health issues early.


CONS:

* Side effects can include: bleeding between periods, breast tenderness. changes in mood, headache, nausea (rarely vomiting), and weight gain or loss (combination pills only). Usually these symptoms subside in 2-3 months, but for some women the side effects are on-going.

* It can be difficult to remember to take The Pill every day, or to remember to start taking it again after your “week off.” I have found that it is easiest for me to remember to take The Pill in the morning when I brush my teeth. I keep the pack right next to my toothbrush, which seems to remind me quite well.

* The Pill’s effectiveness can be compromised by taking certain medications, such as the antibiotic rifampin. Other problematic medications include: certain anti-fungals that are taken orally for yeast infections, certain anti-HIV protease inhibitors, and certain anti-seizure medications. If you are unsure, check with your doctor. You will need to use a back-up form of birth control if your medication will interfere with The Pill.

* Vomiting or diarrhea may also prevent The Pill from working.

* The Pill cannot be used by those with a history of: breast cancer, blood clots or at risk to develop blood clots, liver disease, kidney disease, unexplained uterine bleeding, smokers over age 35, or melanoma (a type of skin cancer).

* The Pill should not be used by those with: light periods, high blood pressure, diabetes, migraine headaches, depression, sickle cell disease, fibroids.

* Serious side effects, though rare, may include: blood clots, liver disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, migraine headaches.

* Serious problems usually have warning signs. If you experience any of the following, contact your doctor immediately: eye problems such as blurred or double vision; pain in the abdomen, chest, or arm; severe headaches; sudden shortness of breath or spitting up blood; unusual swelling or pain in the leg; worsening depression; yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice); a new lump in your breast; unusual heavy bleeding from your vagina.

* It is still possible to contract a sexually transmitted disease while using The Pill.

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For additional information, consult with your doctor, the information booklet that comes with your pill pack, or the Planned Parenthood website (link above).

This is the second in a series of articles that will explore the ways in which the child free community can make sure they stay that way!


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