Birth Control

The Pill

All methods of birth control have their advantages and disadvantages. The oral contraceptive pill (often called "the pill") has become a widely used medically prescribed birth control method in many parts of the world.

The pill consists of two synthetic hormones that are equivalent to estrogen and progestin, pituitary hormones that regulate a woman's menstrual cycle.

Most forms of the pill block a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs. Used appropriately and consistently for 21 days during the monthly cycle, the pill has been found to be 97-99% effective in preventing pregnancy. This high level of success, as well as the fact that the pill is easy to use and does not disrupt intercourse, has made it particularly appealing.

For younger women, the pill also may reduce the risk of various diseases including cancer of the ovaries and endometrium, benign breast cysts, premenstrual syndrome, and iron-deficiency anemia. However, the pill confers no protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or HIV; also, its use may promote nausea, weight gain, and increased blood-clotting. Taking the pill also has been found to be associated with heightened risk for cervical cancer. Women who take the pill are expected to have regular gynecological exams and to report any symptoms (e.g., unexplained vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, dizziness, depression) to their primary care provider. Certain women (e.g., those over the age of 35, heavy smokers, those with various heart or vascular problems, those with a history of cancer) are discouraged from taking the pill.