Myths And Facts About The Contraceptive Pill

Millions of women take the Pill, making it one of the most popular and effective forms of contraception. Over 30 types are available including the combined pill and the mini pill which both contain synthetic hormones to control ovulation and prevent pregnancy. Here are the most common questions asked along with their answers: 

Can it make you put on weight? The most common belief, that the contraceptive pill causes weight gain, is completely untrue. Short-term bloating and water retention can sometimes result from oestrogen in the combined pill, while the progestogen in both the combined and the mini pill can occasionally affect appetite, but there is no evidence to suggest the hormones themselves cause physical weight gain.

What about mood swings, skin problems and tiredness? It’s normal for women to experience mild side-effects when starting the pill for the first time, but these tend to pass quickly, and are simply a result of your body adapting to the synthetic hormones in the pill.

Do I need to take a break? Research shows you can take the pill for up to 15 years or more without any increased risk to health. It is advisable, however, to occasionally review your contraceptive needs with your GP or an online clinic.

Should I worry about cancer? One widely-reported concern is the link between taking the combined Pill and developing breast cancer. However, most GPs agree that the risks are minimal. Hormone therapies such as the pill are considered a weak risk factor for developing breast cancer, along with having a poor diet and being overweight. Other research shows that taking the pill decreases your risk of ovarian cancer, and the progestogen in both the combined and mini pill also protects against womb cancer. Taking the pill can even lower the risk of bowel cancer by up to 20%, and there is only a very minimal risk of suffering a blood clot on the pill.

What are the benefits? Apart from the most obvious benefit of reliable protection against unplanned pregnancy, taking the pill can ease heavy and painful periods, calm premenstrual tension and help to clear up long-standing skin problems like acne. But one essential fact to remember is the contraceptive pill cannot protect against sexually transmitted infections so it is highly advisable to use condoms as well to prevent any potential infection.

How does the Pill work? There are two types of hormonal contraception – the combined pill, which has synthetic versions of both oestrogen and progestogen, and the progestogen only pill (POP, also known at the mini pill) which contains no oestrogen. These hormones help to prevent ovulation (release of an egg). They also thicken mucus in the cervix, making it harder for sperm to reach the egg, and change the womb lining so it is less receptive to pregnancy.

What types of Pill are there? TThe combined pill is a popular choice for women who are under the age of 35, healthy and non-smokers. This type of pill is taken once a day for 21 days, followed by a seven day break. During your week’s break, you have a ‘withdrawal bleed’ that mimics a natural period, and after seven days you start a new pill pack. There is plenty of choice available when it comes to the combined pill. Dianette, for example, is prescribed for women with acne or excessive body hair and Cilest, Microgynon and Marvelon are chosen by women who experience heavy and painful periods, or as endometriosis. Mercilon has a lower dose of synthetic oestrogen for women who are more sensitive to this hormone.

The Mini Pill contains no oestrogen. This makes it a popular choice for women over 35, those who smoke, have high blood pressure, are overweight, or have experienced blood clots in the past. Unlike the combined pill, which has a seven day break, this variety is taken every day, with no break between packs of pills. One stipulation is that it is taken at the same time every day – any more than a three hour delay will make the a progestogen-only pill ineffective. Common forms include Cerazette, which helps to control painful menstrual cramps, and Noriday which carries the least risk of any short- term side effects.

Finding the right pill for you can take time. A GP or a gynecologist will be able to provide you with expert medical advice.

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