Birth Control Pills - tyPes
Today’s birth control pills contain a much lower • Demulen
dose of estrogen than their predecessors. That • Desogen
means they have fewer side effects. Nevertheless, • Levlen
they’re still highly effective. • Loestrin
TYPES OF BIRTH CONTROL PILLS • Ortho-Cept
There are two basic types of birth control pills. • Ortho-Cyclen
Combination pills combine estrogen and progestin. • Ortho-Novum
The “minipill” contains progesterone only. There is • Yasmin
also an emergency contraceptive pill, which is taken • Yaz (contains 24 active pills and four placebo
after unprotected sex. pills)
Here is an overview of each type of pill and an Biphasic: The 21 active pills contain two differ-
explanation of how it works. ent levels of estrogen and progestin. Brand names
BIRTH CONTROL PILL TYPE: COMBINATION • Jenest-28
PILLS • Mircette
Combination birth control pills are the type most • Necon 10/11
commonly associated with the term “the pill.” They • Ortho-Novum 10/11
contain a combination of the hormones estrogen and Triphasic: The 21 active pills contain three dif-
progestin. Progestin is a synthetic form of the hor- ferent doses of hormones. The dose changes every
mone progesterone. seven days. Brand names include:
Ovulation normally occurs when a spike in es- • Ortho-Novum 7/7/7
trogen levels signals the ovaries to release an egg. • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Combination pills prevent ovulation by adjusting hor- • Tri-Levlen
mone levels to prevent this spike. They also thicken • Tri-Norinyl
cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the • Triphasil
egg. In addition, they change the lining of the uterus In terms of safety and effectiveness, the three
to make it more difficult for a fertilized egg to im- combination pill types are pretty much interchange-
plant. able. Many doctors, though, recommend monophasic
Most combination pills use the same form of pills because the hormone dose and color are more
estrogen -- ethinyl estradiol -- but different types of consistent. “I almost always prescribe monophasic
progestins. For example, Mircette uses the progestin pills,” says Espey. “For me the biggest problem with
desogestrel. Yasmin uses drospirenone. biphasic [and triphasic] pills has nothing to do with
Most combination pills come in 21- or 28-day content. It has to do with colors. If a woman misses
packs. With a 21-day pack, all of the pills are active. a pill and you tell her to take another pill the next
You don’t take any pills for the last seven days of the day, she can get confused about the color.”
cycle. It’s up to you to remember when to start the
next pill pack. With a 28-day pack, you take 21 ac- WHAT ARE THE PROS OF COMBINATION PILLS?
tive pills followed by seven inactive placebo pills. Combination pills offer a number of advantages
There are three types of combination pills: and benefits:
monophasic, biphasic, and triphasic. • They are 99% effective when taken every day.
Monophasic: All of the 21 active pills contain the The typical failure rates, however, range from 3% to
same level of hormones. Brand names include: 8%.
• Alesse • Menstrual periods are lighter, more regular,
• Beyaz (similar to Yaz but with a form of fo- and less painful.
late added) • There are fewer premenstrual side effects,
• Brevicon such as moodiness.
Continued from previous page
• There is lower risk of ovarian and uterine Hillard says. “They hardly last a full 24 hours, so you
cancers, ovarian and breast cysts, and pelvic inflam- really need to be just about perfect in taking your
matory disease. pills at the exact same time every day.”
• There is less acne.
• The pills prevent ectopic pregnancy. Brand names include:
• They ease the discomfort of endometriosis. • Micronor
What are the cons of combination pills? • Nor-QD
COMBINATION PILLS ALSO HAVE THEIR DOWN- What are the pros of minipills?
• The side effects include: HERE ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND BENEFITS
o Nausea ASSOCIATED WITH MINIPILLS:
o Vomiting • They can be used by breast feeding women.
o Headaches • They can be used by women who can’t take
o Breast tenderness and swelling estrogen, such as those who smoke and are over 35,
o Decreased sex drive and those who have high blood pressure or migraines
o Dizziness with aura.
o Irregular bleeding, especially in the • They reduce menstrual blood loss and
first two months of use cramps.
• The pills might increase risks of high blood • They protect against ovarian and uterine can-
pressure, heart attack, stroke, blood clots, liver cers and pelvic inflammatory disease.
tumors, or, in rare cases, gallstones.
• They are not appropriate for women with a WHAT ARE THE CONS OF MINIPILLS?
history of blood clots, uncontrolled high blood pres- Here are the problems associated with using
sure, migraine headaches with aura, heart disease, minipills:
or liver disease. • They are not quite as effective as the combi-
BIRTH CONTROL PILL TYPE: MINIPILL • They must be taken every day at the same
The “minipill” or progestin-only pill (POP) con- • They can cause irregular bleeding and missed
tains no estrogen. It’s designed for women who are periods.
breast feeding. Estrogen reduces milk production. • They won’t regulate periods like the combi-
They are also designed for women who have condi- nation pills.
tions that prevent them from taking estrogen. For • Side effects can include abdominal pain or
example, women with a history of blood clots should cramps, fatigue, hot flashes, reduced sex drive,
not take estrogen. headache, nausea, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping.
Minipills work by
• Blocking one of the hormones needed for ovu- BIRTH CONTROL PILL TYPE: EXTENDED-CYCLE
lation PILLS/CONTINUOUS USE PILLS
• Thickening the cervical mucus to prevent Extended-cycle pills are relatively new. They
sperm from getting to the egg offer a choice for women who have painful periods
• Changing the lining of the uterus to make it or who just don’t like the inconvenience of having
more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant a monthly period. Like the combination pills, they
They come in 28-day packs, and all of the pills contain both estrogen and progesterone. By having
are active. more days of active hormone in a row, though, these
The minipill can be effective. But you do need to pills eliminate many -- if not all -- periods.
be meticulous about taking it. “They are pretty un- The number of active pills you take and the num-
forgiving in terms of missed pills or pills taken late,” ber of times you get your period depend on the type
Continued from previous page
of extended-cycle or continuous-use birth control
pill you take: • Unless you are breast feeding or have a medi-
• Seasonale contains 81 days of active pills. cal condition such as a history of blood clots, your
That’s followed by seven days of inactive pills. That doctor will most likely start you on a combination
means you get a period about once every three pill. If you want to reduce the number of periods you
months. get a year, the doctor might prescribe an extended-
• Seasonique contains 84 days of active pills. cycle pill.
They’re followed by seven days of low-dose estro- • It’s important to discuss all of your birth
gen pills. The result is you have about four periods a control options with your doctor before making a
year. decision. “Women thinking about birth control pills
• Lybrel contains only active pills. It’s taken need to ask themselves if they are going to be good
365 days a year, which completely eliminates your pill takers and take the pills at the same time every
periods. day,” says Hillard. If not, you might want to consider
It may seem unnatural to reduce or eliminate another form of contraception.
your period. But extended-dose pills are actually just Also, talk to your doctor about possible side
as safe as traditional combination birth control pills. effects and interactions that birth control pills can
“When you give the combination of estrogen and have with certain medications.
progestin,” Espey says, “it causes a thinning of the
lining of the uterus, so you really don’t need to have
a period. If you’re not building up the uterus every
month, you don’t need to shed it.”
Brands of extended-cycle pills include:
WHAT ARE THE PROS OF EXTENDED-CYCLE
There are several benefits and advantages in us-
ing extended-cycle pills:
• You have fewer or no menstrual periods.
• Using the pills may be more effective than
the traditional combination pill cycles because the
pills are easier for women to take.
• The pills can help treat conditions that are
exacerbated by periods, such as endometriosis, men-
strual headaches, painful periods, and premenstrual
• There are fewer menstrual symptoms.
WHAT ARE THE CONS OF EXTENDED-CYCLE
Just like with the other pills, there are down-
sides to extended-cycle pills:
• There may be irregular or breakthrough
• The pills have the same side effects as com-