The oral contraceptive pill, commonly referred to as "the pill," is a form of hormonal contraception taken by approximately 12 million women in the US each year to prevent pregnancy.
The pill is a highly effective method of contraception when taken correctly (at the same time everyday), with only 0.1% of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy, according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP); around 1 in 100 women taking the pill experience an unintended pregnancy in the first year of pill use.
However, pregnancy rates increase dramatically in women who miss a pill (rates rise 30-80 times, according to the ARHP).
There are two types of contraceptive pills, both of which contain synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen & progesterone. Combination pills contain both of these hormones, whereas the "mini pill," known as the progestin-only pill contains only the hormone progestin.
Although very effective & useful, there are some commonly experienced side effects with these pills. These mainly include nausea; changes in vaginal discharge that can range from an increase to a decrease in vaginal lubrication, an alteration in the nature of the discharge, and changes which can affect sexual intercourse.
Bloating, headaches, increased appetite, yeast infections, inter-menstrual spotting, missed periods, mood swings and other emotional issues, blood clots, brown spots on face, lower sex drive and breast tenderness are some others to note.
Combination pills do pose a slightly increased risk of cardiovascular side effects such as heart attack, stroke and blood clots, which can be fatal. People with a history of blood clots, heart attacks or stroke are advised not to take the combination birth control pill. It is also important to note that an unintended pregnancy has its own side effects.
It is recommended not to take hormonal contraceptives if there is a personal history of liver or heart disease, uterine or breast cancer, uncontrolled blood pressure, or migraines with an aura. Combination pills with the form of synthetic progesterone called drospirenone may have a higher risk of blood clots leading to deep vein thrombosis & pulmonary embolism.
A qualified health care provider should be consulted before beginning the pill method of birth control and also for individual guidance on the most appropriate method of birth control.