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Birth Control Pills

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What are birth control pills?

Birth control pills are also called oral contraceptives, or the pill. It is medicine that helps prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation. Ovulation is when the ovaries make and release an egg cell each month. If this egg gets fertilized by sperm, pregnancy occurs. You will need to take the pill at the same time every day. Your healthcare provider will tell you when to start taking the pill. You will also be told what to do if you miss a dose. Instructions will depend on the kind of birth control pills you are taking.

What are the different kinds of birth control pills?

Some kinds are taken for 21 days in a row, followed by 7 days of placebo (no hormones) pills. Other kinds are taken for 24 days followed by 4 days of placebos. Each kind has a certain amount of female hormones. Your provider will decide on the kind that is best for you based on your age and other health conditions.

What may be done before I can start taking birth control pills?

You need to see your healthcare provider to get a prescription. Any of the following may be done before your healthcare provider gives you a prescription:

  • Your healthcare provider will ask about diseases and illnesses you have had in the past. Your provider will check your risk for blood clots, heart conditions, or stroke. Tell your provider if you had gastric bypass surgery. This surgery can affect the way your body absorbs medicines such as birth control pills.
  • Your provider will also check your blood pressure, and may do a breast and pelvic exam. A Pap smear may also be done during the pelvic exam. This is a test to make sure you do not have abnormal changes on your cervix. You may need other tests, such as a urine test to make sure you are not pregnant.
  • Your provider will ask if you take any medicines and if you smoke. Smoking increases your risk for stroke, heart attack, or a blood clot in your lungs. If you smoke, you should not take certain kinds of birth control pills.

What are the advantages of birth control pills?

When birth control pills are used correctly, the chances of getting pregnant are very low. Birth control pills may help decrease bleeding and pain during your monthly period. They may also help prevent cancer of the uterus and ovaries.

What are the disadvantages of birth control pills?

You may have sudden changes in your mood or feelings while you take birth control pills. You may have nausea and a decreased sex drive. You may have an increased appetite and rapid weight gain. You may also have bleeding in between periods, less frequent periods, vaginal dryness, and breast pain. Birth control pills will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections. Rarely, some birth control pills can increase your risk for a blood clot. This may become life-threatening.

What should I do if I decide I want to get pregnant?

If you are planning to have a baby, ask your healthcare provider when you may stop taking your birth control pills. It may take some time for you to start ovulating again. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about pregnancy after birth control pills.

When should I start taking birth control pills after I have a baby?

If you are not breastfeeding, you may start taking birth control pills 3 weeks after you give birth. You may be able to take certain types of birth control pills if you are breastfeeding. These pills can be started from 6 weeks to 6 months after you give birth. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about when to start taking birth control pills after you give birth.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

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What do I need to know about birth control pills and menopause?

  • Talk with your healthcare provider if you want to take birth control pills around menopause.
  • Around age 45, you will enter into perimenopause. This means your hormone levels are dropping and you are ovulating less often. You can still become pregnant during this time. The risk for problems, such as miscarriage, are higher if you become pregnant after age 45. Birth control pills will prevent pregnancy, and may also help prevent or relieve some signs and symptoms of menopause. Examples are hot flashes and mood swings.
  • Your provider will do tests when you are around age 50. The tests may show that you are in menopause. If the tests do not show menopause for sure, you may be able to continue taking the pill up to age 55. The decision will depend on your health and if you have any medical conditions, such as a blood clot.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You have severe pain, numbness, or swelling in your arms or legs.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have forgotten to take a birth control pill.
  • You have mood changes, such as depression, since starting birth control pills.
  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • You missed a period and have questions or concerns about being pregnant.
  • You still have bleeding 4 months after taking birth control pills correctly.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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