Medical Definition of Contraceptive, pill

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/31/2018

Contraceptive, pill: Commonly called "the pill," combined oral contraceptives are the most commonly used form of reversible birth control in the United States. This form of birth control suppresses ovulation (the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries) by the combined actions of the hormones estrogen and progestin. If a woman remembers to take the pill every day as directed, she has an extremely low chance of becoming pregnant in a year. But the pill's effectiveness may be reduced if the woman is taking some medications, such as certain antibiotics.

Besides preventing pregnancy, the pill can make periods more regular. It also has a protective effect against pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the fallopian tubes or uterus that is a major cause of infertility in women, and against ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Birth control pills are considered safe for most women but they carry some risks. Current low-dose pills have fewer risks associated with them than earlier versions. But 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 the pill.

The pill may also contribute to cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, blood clots, and blockage of the arteries.

The side effects of the pill include nauseaheadache, breast tenderness, weight gain, irregular bleeding, and depression. These side effects often subside after a few months' use of the pill.

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Reviewed on 12/31/2018