Table of Contents
Oral Contraceptives and Combination Hormonal Methods
Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are available only by prescription and come in either a combination of estrogen and progestin or progestin alone. Many brands of each form are available. Although both types are equally effective with typical use, the combined pill is more effective with perfect use, and most women choose this form. The birth control pill is the most popular form of contraception in the United States, used by more than 10 million American women.
Some women, however, experience severe headaches or high blood pressure from the estrogen in the combined pill and must take the progestin-only pill. Not all combined pills or progestin-only pills are alike, and brands differ in the amount of estrogen or progestin they contain. Many oral contraceptive combined brands now use lower estrogen doses and have fewer side effects than earlier oral contraceptives.
For all oral contraceptive users, a check-up at least once a year is essential. It is also important for women to have their blood pressure checked 3 months after beginning the pill. Once woman stop taking oral contraceptives they usually regain fertility within 3 - 6 months, but some women may regain it even sooner.
Hormones Used in Contraceptives
Estrogen is the major female hormone and is responsible for female characteristics. The estrogen compound used in most oral contraceptives is estradiol, which is always used with a progestin.
Effects on Reproduction. When used throughout a menstrual cycle with progestin, estrogen suppresses the actions of other reproductive hormones (luteinizing hormone, or LH, and follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH) and prevents ovulation.
When used in contraception, progesterone is referred to by one of several names:
- Progesterone is the name for the natural hormone that the body produces.
- Progestin is the synthetic form of progesterone that is used in contraceptives.
- Progestogen is the term for any hormone, natural or synthetic, that causes progesterone effects.
Progestins may be used alone or with estrogen in oral contraceptives. In addition, certain specific progestins are used in other kinds of contraceptives, such as etonogestrel in the Implanon implant and depo-medroxyprogesterone acetate in the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera.
Review Date: 09/28/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.