|Generic Name||Brand Name|
|Very low-dose pills||Alesse, Loestrin 1/20, Mircette|
|Low-dose pills||Lo/Ovral, Seasonale, Yasmin|
|Phasic pills||Ortho-Novum 7/7/7, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, Triphasil|
|High-dose pills||Demulen 1/50, Ortho-Novum 1/50, Ovral|
How It Works
Birth control pills, which are also
called oral contraceptives, regulate the body's
progesterone levels. You take birth control pills
every day. Birth control pills:
- Prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg every
month (ovulation). This prevents pregnancy.
Minimize growth of the uterine lining, called the
endometrium. This reduces or stops
dysfunctional uterine bleeding. (Thick endometrial
growth leads to heavy bleeding.)
- May cause you to have fewer
menstrual periods if taken continuously for a long
period of time.
- May improve
perimenopausal symptoms that are caused by fluctuating
Why It Is Used
Birth control pills are commonly used
- Stop a teen's irregular menstrual bleeding
(dysfunctional uterine bleeding) and regulate her cycle.
- Regulate a
perimenopausal woman's irregular periods (dysfunctional uterine
- Regulate perimenopausal hormone levels, with the
intention of reducing hormone-related symptoms while providing effective birth
- Regulate a woman's menstrual cycles that have
been chronically irregular.
How Well It Works
endocrine system, which produces hormones, is complex
and not fully understood. Therefore, as with any hormone treatment, birth
control pills do not reduce symptoms in all women. They cause troublesome side
effects in some women, but not others. If you have problems with
ineffectiveness or side effects, ask your health professional whether a
different hormone formulation may work better.
Dysfunctional uterine bleeding. Birth control pills reduce the
amount of heavy menstrual bleeding by about half.3
Perimenopausal symptoms. Birth control
pills reduce or eliminate hot flashes and improve sleep problems and depression
in most perimenopausal women, while effectively preventing pregnancy.2, 4 Studies report a range of 65% to
100% of women gaining partial to full relief from hot flashes when using birth
Disease prevention. The estrogen in birth control pills maintains or improves
bone density (osteoporosis prevention) during perimenopause, when
bone loss begins to increase.2 Long-term use (4 or
more years) of birth control pills helps preventendometrial cancer and
ovarian cancer. Experts suspect that
progestin is the protective factor.5
When you stop taking birth control
pills, dysfunctional uterine bleeding or perimenopausal symptoms may return.
Side effects of birth control pills are
generally the most severe during the first few months of use and then gradually
subside. The most common side effects are:
- Breast tenderness.
Although some women report weight gain with birth control
pill use, studies suggest that generally, long-term weight gain is not a common
The risk of serious side effects increases in women who smoke.
Rare, but more serious, side effects
If you have serious side effects, call your doctor for
If you have bothersome side effects, report
them to your doctor at your next regularly scheduled visit.
Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not
available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Do not use
birth control pills if you:
- Are older than 35 and smoke, have complications
diabetes, or have an increased risk of heart
- Have a personal history of
breast cancer. Estrogen stimulates certain types of
- Have uncontrolled high blood pressure.
- Have liver
- Have a history of blood clots in a vein (deep vein
thrombosis) or lung (pulmonary embolism).
- Have a history of
For women older than 35, low-dose birth control pills are
recommended. If you have no risk factors, such as a history of heart problems
or stroke, you may use birth control pills until
menopause is completed. Birth control pills are not
recommended for use after menopause.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?)
to help you understand this medication.
Goldstein SR (2008). Abnormal uterine bleeding. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 664–671. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and
Kaunitz AM (2001). Oral contraceptive use in
perimenopause. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 185(2, Suppl): S32–S37.
Lobo RA (2007). Abnormal uterine bleeding: Ovulatory
and anovulatory dysfunctional uterine bleeding, management of acute and chronic
excessive bleeding. In VL Katz et al., eds., Comprehensive Gynecology, 5th ed., pp. 915–931. Philadelphia: Mosby
Rapkin AJ, et al. (2002). The clinical nature and
formal diagnosis of premenstrual, postpartum, and perimenopausal affective
disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 4(6):
Fraser IS, Kovacs GT (2003). The efficacy of
non-contraceptive uses of hormonal contraceptives. Medical Journal of Australia, 178(12): 621–623.
Moreno V, et al. (2002). Effect of oral contraceptives
on risk of cervical cancer in women with human papillomavirus infection: The
IARC muticentric case-control study. Lancet, 359(9312):