You may find it overwhelming to choose a contraceptive pill today, as there are quite a few brands available. The combined contraceptive pill contains two female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone), although there is another contraceptive pill type that only contains progesterone (called the mini pill).
Most contraceptive pill brands differ in the amount and type of oestrogen and progesterone they contain, which is also related to the risks attached to them. For example, pills with a higher dose of oestrogen have been linked with increased risk of blood clots in some women.
So, to decide on the best contraceptive pill to use, you should always speak to your GP first, who would advise you based on your medical history and current lifestyle. In general, here are some key factors to consider:
Age and Lifestyle
Your age is an important risk factor for taking the contraceptive pill. Women over 35, especially those that smoke, are usually advised to try the progesterone only pill or other birth control options due to increased risk of developing high blood pressure with pills containing oestrogen.
Your lifestyle, especially regarding your physical health, is another important factor when choosing a contraceptive option. Women who are obese or very overweight are not advised to take pills containing oestrogen as this increases their risk of developing heart diseases.
Drugs and medical conditions
There are certain medications which can reduce the effectiveness of the combined pill, so you should always inform your GP about all medications you are currently taking. Some important examples are antibiotics (specifically Rifampicin), and epilepsy medicines. HIV drugs have also been found to reduce the effectiveness of the progesterone only pill (mini pill). In some cases, additional contraceptive options like condoms may be needed. Your GP will be able to advise you on what to do.
You may be advised against taking the pill if you have a history of medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, breast cancer, blood clots, migraines with aura or heart disease.
Side effects of the combined contraceptive pill
The combined contraceptive pill is quite common among women globally. Some common brand names of the combined pill in the UK are Microgynon, Brevinor, Rigevidon, and Yasmin. Despite its popularity, there are some common side effects you may experience with this pill type, which include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Bleeding between periods
- Blurry vision
- Breast tenderness
- Changes in vaginal discharge
- Fluid retention causing weight gain
- Mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
Not all women will experience these side effects and you may find that changing the pill brand may reduce some of them.
Side effects of the progesterone only pill
The mini pill is usually recommended for women who cannot use contraceptive pills containing oestrogen. It is quite popular in women over 35 years and those breastfeeding. Some common mini pill brands in the UK are Cerazette, Micronor and Noriday. A few examples of side effects you may experience on the mini pill are:
- Bleeding between periods
- Breast pain
- Decreased sexual drive
- Feeling tired
- Mood changes
- Some women may develop ovarian cysts with long term pill usage
- Weight gain
Benefits of using the contraceptive pill
- Some pill brands such as Yasmin and Brevinor are popular with getting rid of acne and reducing heavy painful periods.
- The combined contraceptive pill is helpful in treating endometriosis as it suppresses the menstrual cycle, reducing monthly periods which in turn slows down endometrial growth
- When used correctly, the contraceptive pill is 99% effective. They also provide better protection against pregnancy compared to using condoms alone.
The human factor and pill effectiveness
One important issue with the contraceptive pill is that its effectiveness relies on taking it correctly, at the right time, every day. So, you should consider if you will have trouble remembering to take the pill at the correct time daily, as this can affect your protection against pregnancy. There are other long term reversible contraceptive options that do not depend on the human factor such as the contraceptive coil, injections or implants.
So, the key facts to takeaway is that there are no perfect contraceptive pills, and they all come with their benefits, risks and side effects. Ultimately, the best contraceptive pill for you should achieve a healthy balance where the benefits outweigh the risks, with side effects you can tolerate. You may find this combination with your first contraceptive pill choice, or you may have to try a few brands before findings the right one for you.