- Birth Control Slideshow Pictures
- Think You Know Birth Control? Quiz
- Sex-Drive Killers Slideshow: Causes of Low Libido
- What are birth control pills, and how do they work (mechanism of action)?
- Do I need a prescription for birth control pills?
- Birth control pill side effects
- What is the dosage for birth control pills, and how do I take them?
- List and types of birth control pill generic and brand names
- Are birth control pills safe to store in hot or cold weather?
- Which drugs or supplements interact with Oral Contraceptives, Birth Control Pills?
- Are birth control pills safe to take if I'm breastfeeding?
What are birth control pills, and how do they work (mechanism of action)?
Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are medications that prevent pregnancy. They are one method of birth control. Oral contraceptives are hormonal preparations that may contain combinations of the hormones estrogen and progestin or progestin alone. Combinations of estrogen and progestin prevent pregnancy by inhibiting the release of the hormones luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland in the brain. LH and FSH play key roles in the development of the egg and preparation of the lining of the uterus for implantation of the embryo. Progestin also makes the uterine mucus that surrounds the egg more difficult for sperm to penetrate and, therefore, for fertilization to take place. In some women, progestin inhibits ovulation (release of the egg).
There are different types of combination birth control pills that contain estrogen and progestin that are referred to as "monophasic," "biphasic," or "triphasic."
- Monophasic birth control pills deliver the same amount of estrogen and progestin every day.
- Biphasic birth control pills deliver the same amount of estrogen every day for the first 21 days of the cycle. During the first half of the cycle, the progestin/estrogen ratio is lower to allow the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to thicken as it normally does during the menstrual cycle. During the second half of the cycle, the progestin/estrogen ratio is higher to allow the normal shedding of the lining of the uterus to occur.
- Triphasic birth control pills have constant or changing estrogen concentrations and varying progestin concentrations throughout the cycle. There is no evidence that bi- or triphasic oral contraceptives are safer or superior to monophasic oral contraceptives, or vice versa, in their effectiveness for the prevention of pregnancy.
Do I need a prescription for birth control pills?
Yes, you need a prescription from a doctor or other health care professional for oral contraceptives.
Birth control pill side effects
The most common side effects of the birth control pills include nausea, headache, breast tenderness, weight gain, irregular bleeding, and mood changes. These side effects often subside after a few months' use. Scanty menstrual periods or breakthrough bleeding may occur but are often temporary, and neither side effect is serious. Women with a history of migraines may notice an increase in migraine frequency. On the other hand, women whose migraines are triggered by fluctuations in their own hormone levels may notice improvement in migraines with oral contraceptive use because of the more uniform hormone levels during oral contraceptive use. Uncommonly, oral contraceptives may contribute to increased blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Women who smoke, especially those over 35, and women with certain medical conditions, such as a history of blood clots or breast or endometrial cancer, may be advised against taking oral contraceptives, as these conditions can increase the adverse risks of oral contraceptives.
What is the dosage for birth control pills, and how do I take them?
Many of the birth control pills come in easy-to-use dispensers in which the day of the week or a consecutive number (1, 2, 3, etc.) is written on the dispenser with a corresponding tablet for each day or number.
For example, some Ortho-Novum dispensers are labeled "Sunday" next to the first tablet. Thus, the first tablet is to be taken on the first Sunday after menstruation begins (the first Sunday following the first day of a woman's period). If her period begins on Sunday, the first tablet should be taken on that day.
For birth control pills that use consecutive numbers, the first tablet (#1) is taken on the first day of the menstrual period (the first day of bleeding). Tablet #2 is taken on the second day and so on.
Still other packages instruct women to begin on day five of the cycle. For such products, women count from day one of their menstrual cycle (day one is the first day of bleeding). On the fifth day, the first tablet is taken. Tablets then are taken daily.
Most birth control pills are packaged as 21-day or 28-day units. For 21-day packages, tablets are taken daily for 21 days. This is followed by a seven-day period during which no birth control pills are taken. Then the cycle repeats.
For the 28-day units, tablets containing medication are taken for 21 consecutive days, followed by a seven-day period during which placebo tablets (containing no medication) are taken.
Newer formulations with 24 days of hormone pills and only four days of placebo pills are now available, as are continuous or extended-cycle oral contraceptive regimens, in which only active hormone pills are taken. Extended-cycle preparations include seven-day intervals of placebo pills to be taken approximately every three months.
Women just starting to take birth control pills should use additional contraception for the first seven days of use because pregnancy may occur during this period.
If women forget to take tablets, pregnancy may result. If a single tablet is forgotten, it should be taken as soon as it is realized that it is forgotten. If more than one tablet is forgotten, the instructions that come with the packaging should be consulted, or a physician or pharmacist should be called.
List and types of birth control pill generic and brand names
List of examples of oral contraceptives of different brands and categories:
|ethinyl estradiol||ethynodiol diacetate|
|Genora 1/35||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Levlite 28||ethinyl estradiol||levonorgestrel|
|Loestrin 21 1/20|
Loestrin 21 1.5/30
Loestrin FE 1/20
Loestrin FE 1.5/30
|ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone acetate|
Microgestin FE 1/20
Microgestin FE 1/5/30
|ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone acetate|
|Nordette 28||ethinyl estradiol||levonorgestrel|
|Norinyl 1/35||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Ortho-Novum 1/35||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Tri-Norinyl 28||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Yasmin 28||ethinyl estradiol||drospirenone|
|ethinyl estradiol||ethynodiol diacetate|
|Jenest 28||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Ortho-Novum 10/11||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Ortho-Novum 7/7/7||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
Ortho Tri-Cyclen LO
|Tri-Norinyl 28||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone|
|Triphasil 28||ethinyl estradiol||levonorgestrel|
|Trivora 28||ethinyl estradiol||levonorgestrel|
|24-4 PREPARATIONS (24 days of hormone pills and 4 days of placebo pills)|
|Lo Estrin 24-4||ethinyl estradiol||norethindrone acetate|
Previous contributing medical author: Carolyn Janet Crandall, MD, MS, FACP
Are birth control pills safe to store in hot or cold weather?All oral contraceptives should be stored between 15 C (59 F) and 30 C (86 F).
Which drugs or supplements interact with Oral Contraceptives, Birth Control Pills?
: Estrogens can inhibit the metabolism (elimination) of cyclosporine, resulting in increased cyclosporine blood levels. Such increased blood levels can result in kidney and/or liver damage. If this combination cannot be avoided, cyclosporine concentrations can be monitored, and the dose of cyclosporine can be adjusted to assure that its blood levels do not become elevated.
Estrogens appear to increase the risk of liver disease in patients receiving dantrolene (Dantrium) through an unknown mechanism. Women over 35 years of age and those with a history of liver disease are especially at risk.
Estrogens increase the liver's ability to manufacture clotting factors. Because of this, patients receiving warfarin (Coumadin) need to be monitored for loss of anticoagulant (blood thinning) effect if an estrogen is begun.
A number of medications, including some antibiotics and antiseizure medications, can decrease the blood levels of oral contraceptive hormones, but an actual decrease in the effectiveness of the oral contraceptive has not been convincingly proven. Nonetheless, because of this theoretical possibility, some physicians recommend backup contraceptive methods during antibiotic use. Examples of medications that increase the elimination of estrogens include
- carbamazepine (Tegretol),
- phenytoin (Dilantin),
- primidone (Mysoline),
- rifampin (Rifadin),
- rifabutin (Mycobutin), and
- ritonavir (Norvir).
Birth control pills with higher concentrations of estrogen or alternative forms of contraception may be necessary in women using those medications.
Are birth control pills safe to take if I'm breastfeeding?
Use of birth control pills during lactation has been associated with decreased milk production, decreased infant weight gain, and decreased nitrogen and protein content of milk. The amount of estrogen consumed by an infant whose mother takes a standard dose of birth control pills is considered to be the same as from a lactating woman who is not taking birth control pills, and side effects have not been reported. Using a progestin-only product is most often recommended during lactation if birth control pills are to be used during this period. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends delaying taking combined estrogen-progestin contraceptives until at least six weeks postpartum, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends delaying the initiation of combined contraceptives until six months.
Reference: FDA Prescribing Information
Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are prescription medications that prevent pregnancy. Three combinations of birth control pills that contain progestin and estrogen are 1) monophasic, 2) biphasic, and 3) triphasic. Birth control pills may also be prescribed to reduce menstrual cramps or prevent anemia. Certain prescription medications may cause drug interactions. Some women experience various levels of side effects of birth control pills.
Multimedia: Slideshows, Images & Quizzes
Birth Control Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
What is the best form of birth control? Take this quiz to find out about hormonal, surgical, barrier, and natural methods!...
Endometriosis Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
Endometriosis is a common gynecological condition. Take this quiz to learn what happens when a woman has endometriosis as well as...
Stages of Pregnancy: 1st, 2nd, 3rd Trimester Images
See pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of...
Sex-Drive Killers: The Causes of Low Libido
Noticing a lack of intimacy with your partner? Here we explore how stress, lack of sleep, weight gain, depression and low T can...
Choosing Your Birth Control Method
What are your birth control options? Learn about birth control side effects and effectiveness. Discover birth control methods...
Related Disease Conditions
Pregnancy (Week By Week, Trimesters)
Signs and symptoms of pregnancy vary by stage (trimester). The earliest pregnancy symptom is typically a missed period, but...
Early Pregnancy Symptoms and Signs
Pregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and not all women experience the same symptoms. When women do experience...
Liver disease can be cause by a variety of things including infection (hepatitis), diseases such as: gallstones, high...
Endometriosis (Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and Prognosis)
Endometriosis implants are most commonly found on the ovaries, the Fallopian tubes, outer surfaces of the uterus or intestines,...
Ovarian Cysts (Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment)
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled, sac-like structures within an ovary. Symptoms of an ovarian cysts may be: Pain in the belly...
Thrush (Oral Candidiasis)
Thrush is an infection of the mouth caused by the Candida fungus. Symptoms of Thrush include pain or difficulty swallowing, a...
Chronic Rhinitis and Post-Nasal Drip (Symptoms, Treatment)
Chronic rhinitis and post-nasal drip symptoms include an itchy, runny nose, sneezing, itchy ears, eyes, and throat. Seasonal...
A dry socket is a potential complication that can occur when a blood clot in the gums becomes dislodged after a tooth extraction....
Anemia is the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin...
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Signs, Causes, Diet, and Treatment
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a disease in which pressure within the arteries of the body is elevated. About 75 million...
Stroke (Signs, Symptoms, Warning Signs)
A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding...
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a parasite passed from person to person. Trichomoniasis can be...
Normal vaginal bleeding (menorrhea) occurs through the process of menstruation. Abnormal vaginal bleeding in women who are...
Though uterine cancer's cause is unknown, there are many factors that will put a woman at risk, including being over age 50,...
Gallstones are stones that form when substances in the bile harden. Gallstones (formed in the gallbladder) can be as small as...
Perimenopause (Symptoms, Signs, Remedies, and Treatments)
Perimenopause is the time in a woman's life when she is approaching menopause. During this time a woman starts to develop...
Blood clots can occur in the venous and arterial vascular system. Blood clots can form in the heart, legs, arteries, veins,...
Breast cancer is an invasive tumor that develops in the mammary gland. Breast cancer is detected via mammograms, breast...
Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a diseases in which blood clots within the capillaries. Causes associated with HUS...
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease....
Pulmonary Embolism (Blood Clot in the Lung)
A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a piece of a blood clot from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) breaks off and travels to an artery...
Acne is a localized skin inflammation as a result of overactivity of oil glands at the base of hair follicles. This...
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of physical and emotional disturbances that occur after a woman ovulates and ends...
Birth Control Options (Types and Side Effects)
Birth control is available in a variety of methods and types. The method of birth control varies from person to person, and...
Lactose intolerance is a common problem where a person's digestive system cannot digest lactose. Signs and symptoms include:...
Heart attack happens when a blood clot completely obstructs a coronary artery supplying blood to the heart muscle. A heart attack...
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is considered a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMDD has also been referred to...
Erythema nodosum is a skin inflammation that results in reddish, painful, tender lumps most commonly located in the front of the...
Menstrual cramps (pain in the belly and pelvic area) are experienced by women as a result of menses. Menstrual cramps are not the...
Pregnancy planning is an important step in preparation for starting or expanding a family. Planning for a pregnancy includes:...
Amenorrhea (including hypothalmic amenorrhea) is a condition in which there is an absence of menstrual periods in a woman. There...
Dry eyes are caused by an imbalance in the tear-flow system of the eye, but also can be caused by the drying out of the tear...
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also known by the name Stein-Leventhal syndrome, is a hormonal problem that causes women to...
Pseudotumor Cerebri (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension)
Pseudotumor Cerebri (intracranial hypertension) is a condition where there is an increase in pressure of fluid surrounding the...
Smoking (How to Quit Smoking)
Smoking is an addiction. More than 430,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from smoking related illnesses. Secondhand smoke or...
IBS Triggers (Prevention)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disease that can affect the quality of those who suffer from this condition....
Birth Control Pill vs. Shot (Depo-Provera): Similarities and Differences
Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and the Depo-Provera shot are two hormonal methods of birth control. Both methods...
Menstrual Cramps and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Medication Guide
Menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, a feeling of fullness, abdominal...
Pregnancy and Drugs (Prescription and OTC)
Taking prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs or supplements should be discussed with your doctor. There are some...
Kleine-Levin syndrome is a rare sleep condition, primarily affecting adolescent males. Symptoms of Kleine-Levin syndrome include...
Heart Attack Prevention
Heart disease and heart attacks can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle with diet, exercise, and stress management....
Reproductive health encompasses the beginning of menstruation for women, choosing the right birth control method for you and your...
Endometrial Cancer Prevention
Endometrial cancer, or uterine cancer, affects the endometrium of the uterus. It's the most common invasive cancer of the female...
Sexual health information including birth control, impotence, herpes, sexually transmitted diseases, staying healthy, women's...
Treatment & Diagnosis
- Endometriosis FAQs
- Birth Control FAQs
- What are Wegener's Granulomatosis and Erythema Nodosum?
- Can Birth Control Pills Cure PCODS?
- Birth Control: The Contraceptive Patch
- Birth Control Types
- How To Reduce Your Medication Costs
- Pharmacy Visit, How To Get The Most Out of Your Visit
- Indications for Drugs: Approved vs. Non-approved
- Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Early Warning Signs, and Risk Factors
- Drugs: Buying Prescription Drugs Online Safely
- Generic Drugs, Are They as Good as Brand-Names?
- Drugs: The Most Common Medication Errors
- Medication Disposal - What to Do with Old or Unusable Medication
- Dangers of Mixing Medications
- Ask The Experts: Women's Health
- Birth Control Prescribed by Pharmacists
Medications & Supplements
Prevention & Wellness
- Birth Control Pill Tied to Slight Rise in Breast Cancer Risk
- Are Birth Control Pills Tied to Decline in Ovarian Cancer Deaths?
- Vitamin D Levels May Fall When Women Stop Taking Birth Control
- Birth Control Pills Linked to Fewer Severe Knee Injuries in Teen Girls
- Obese Women on Birth Control Pills May Face Higher Risk of Rare Stroke
- No Link Between 'the Pill' and Birth Defects: Study
- Birth Control Pills May Cut Women's Odds for Uterine Cancer
- Women Spend Far Less on Birth Control Because of 'Obamacare'
- Obese Teens Less Likely to Use Birth Control
- Newer Birth Control Pills May Slightly Raise Blood Clot Risk
- Use of 'the Pill' Tied to Higher Risk for Rare Brain Cancer
- The Pill Remains Most Common Method of Birth Control, U.S. Report Shows
- The 'Hobby Lobby Ruling' and What It Means for U.S. Health Care
- Obesity, 'The Pill' May Raise MS Risk, Research Suggests
- Obama Administration Stands by Contraception Rule
- Male Birth Control Shows Promise in Mice
- 'The Pill' Tied to Raised Risk of Glaucoma
- Millions Still Lack Access to Modern Contraception, Study Says
- Give Teens Access to Emergency Contraception, Pediatricians Say
- Medical Group: Sell the Pill Without Prescription
- Prescription Drugs for Kids: What's Up, Down
- Study: Heart Attack, Stroke Risk Low with Birth Control Pills
- 1 Million Birth Control Pill Packs Recalled
- FDA: Stronger Labeling Needed for Newer Contraceptives
- Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
- Birth Control Myths
- Drug Name Confusion: Preventing Medication Errors
- FDA Strengthens Warning on RU-486
- Stopping Sperm in Their Tracks
- Sexual Infections with Depo Provera?
- Contraceptive: Fake Contraceptive Patches Warning
- FDA Approves First Chewable Oral Contraceptive Tablet
- New Pill, Fewer Periods
Daily Health News
Women's Health Resources
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
Top Oral Contraceptives, Birth Control Pills Related ArticlesComplete List
Birth Control MethodsWhat are your birth control options? Learn about birth control side effects and effectiveness. Discover birth control methods such as birth control pills, birth control shot, implant, patch and more.
Think You Know Birth Control? QuizWhat is the best form of birth control? Take this quiz to find out about hormonal, surgical, barrier, and natural methods!
Contraceptive Measures After Unprotected SexContraceptive birth control measures after unprotected sex include: emergency hormonal contraception (the morning after pill), and emergency IUD. The morning after pill is not meant to be a long-term contraception. Once the emergency is over, a woman should consult with her physician so that an appropriate contraceptive method can be chosen if the woman continues to be sexually active. The emergency IUD can provide a woman with long-term contraception. Emergency IUD insertion does however, increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Endometriosis implants are most commonly found on the ovaries, the Fallopian tubes, outer surfaces of the uterus or intestines, and on the surface lining of the pelvic cavity. They also can be found in the vagina, cervix, and bladder. Endometriosis may not produce any symptoms, but when it does the most common symptom is pelvic pain that worsens just prior to menstruation and improves at the end of the menstrual period. Other symptoms of endometriosis include pain during sex, pain with pelvic examinations, cramping or pain during bowel movements or urination, and infertility.
Treatment of endometriosis can be with medication or surgery.
Endometriosis QuizEndometriosis is a common gynecological condition. Take this quiz to learn what happens when a woman has endometriosis as well as causes, treatments, and risks.
Hormonal Methods of Birth ControlThere are several different hormonal methods of birth control. The differences among them involve: the amount of hormone, the type of hormone, and the way the hormone enters a woman's body. The hormones can be estrogen and/or progesterone. The hormones can be taken by mouth, implanted into body tissue, absorbed from a patch on the skin, injected under the skin, or placed in the vagina. Common types of hormonal birth control include: "The Pill" (oral contraceptives), injection (Depo-Provera, Lunelle), the patch (Ortho-Evra), and the vaginal ring (Nuvaring).
Liver DiseaseLiver disease can be cause by a variety of things including infection (hepatitis), diseases such as:
- high cholesterol or triglycerides,
- blood flow obstruction to the liver, and
- toxins (medications and chemicals).
- upper right abdominal pain, and
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled, sac-like structures within an ovary. Symptoms of an ovarian cysts may be:
- Pain in the belly or pelvis
- A feeling for the need to have a bowel movement
- Urgency to urinate
- Pain during intercourse.
There are a variety of causes and types of ovarian cysts, and treatment depends upon type of cyst.
ParathyroidectomyParathyroidectomy is the removal of one or more of the parathyroid glands to treat hyperparathyroidism. Risks of parathyroidectomy include:
- paralysis of the vocal cords,
- difficulty swallowing thin liquids,
- difficulty breathing,
- and drug reactions.
- damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve,
- bleeding or hematoma,
- problems maintaining calcium levels in the blood,
- need for further and more aggressive surgery,
- need for a limited or total thyroidectomy,
- prolonged pain,
- impaired healing,
- and recurrence of the tumor.
Signs and symptoms of pregnancy vary by stage (trimester). The earliest pregnancy symptom is typically a missed period, but others include
breast swelling and tenderness,
- nausea and sometimes vomiting,
- fatigue, and
Second trimester symptoms include
- weight gain,
- itching, and
- possible stretch marks.
Third trimester symptoms are
- additional weight gain,
- swelling of the ankles,
- fingers, and face,
- breast tenderness, and
- trouble sleeping.
Eating a healthy diet, getting a moderate amount of exercise, also are recommended for a healthy pregnancy. Information about the week by week growth of your baby in the womb are provided.
Pregnancy Symptoms Am I Pregnant
Pregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and not all women experience the same symptoms. When women do experience pregnancy symptoms they may include symptoms include
- missed menstrual period,
- mood changes,
- lower back pain,
- breast tenderness, and
Symptoms in late pregnancy include leg swelling and shortness of breath. Options for relief of pregnancy symptoms include exercise, diet, and more.
Sex-Drive KillersNoticing a lack of intimacy with your partner? Here we explore how stress, lack of sleep, weight gain, depression and low T can cause low sex drive in men and women.
Stages of PregnancySee pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of how her baby grows during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
ThrushThrush is an infection of the mouth caused by the Candida fungus. Symptoms of Thrush include pain or difficulty swallowing, a feeling that food gets stuck in the throat, and fever.
Triglyceride TestTriglycerides are a common form of fat that we digest. Triglycerides are the main ingredient in animal fats and vegetable oils. Elevated levels of triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, fatty liver disease, and pancreatitis. Elevated levels of triglycerides are also associated with diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, and medications (for example, diuretics, birth control pills, and beta blockers). Dietary changes, and medication if necessary can help lower triglyceride blood levels.