Oral Contraceptive Treatments
Hormonal contraceptives are a popular method of contraception for many women, as they provide a convenient, effective and discreet way to prevent pregnancy. As well as providing almost 100% contraceptive cover, many hormonal contraceptives are also used to treat other conditions, such as endometriosis, heavy or painful periods, absence of a period (amenorrhoea), PMS symptoms, acne and excessive hair growth.
You may not always find the right contraceptive straight away, but fortunately there are many effective hormonal contraceptive variants available, making it more likely that you'll find one that's just right for you and your body. Two of the most popular forms of contraception are combination contraceptives (the pill) and the mini-pill, but other methods, such as contraceptive patches, are becoming increasingly more popular.
Dr Hilary Jones discusses your contraceptive options
Monophasic pills usually contain both artificial oestrogen and progestogen, with the same dose contained in every pill. Monophasic pills should normally be taken for 21 days of your 28 day menstrual cycle and will provide you with almost 100% contraceptive cover for the full 28 days if taken regularly as instructed.
As monophasic pills include the same dose in each pill, they may reduce your chances of developing side effects such as mood changes, which are common, particularly for new users of the pill.
Common monophasic pills include:
- Loestrin 20
- Loestrin 30
Biphasic and triphasic
Like monophasic pills, biphasic and triphasic pills are combined oral contraceptives that contain both artificial oestrogen and progestogen. They are also taken for 21 days and provide protection for 28 days. They differ, however, because the dosage of hormones is not the same in each pill. Biphasic contraceptives include two different doses taken during the 21 days, while triphasic pills include three different doses.
Because the dosage changes during your cycle, biphasic and triphasic pills better emulate the natural hormonal changes that take place in your body. This lowers the risk of side effects related to your period, such as spotting, breakthrough bleeding and irregular periods.
Common biphasic and triphasic pills include:
Mini-pills are also known as progestogen-only contraceptives. They're different from combined oral contraceptives because they don't contain any oestrogen. Mini-pills are slightly less effective than combined oral contraceptives as they don't stop ovulation in all women, but still provide more than 99% effective cover. However, the mini-pill Cerazette has shown that it was capable of stopping ovulation in the majority of women who took it during clinical trials.
Because the mini-pill doesn't supply your body with oestrogen, it reduces the chances of you developing oestrogen-related side effects such as headaches, migraines and an increase in blood pressure. Mini-pills also carry a reduced risk of causing thrombosis. Women who breastfeed or who are over 35 and smoke are normally recommended the mini-pill as an alternative to the pill.
Common mini-pills include:
Rings and patches
In recent years, several alternatives to oral hormonal contraceptives have been made available. The most popular alternatives are the contraceptive ring and the contraceptive patch. These both work in a similar way to combined oral contraceptives; they contain artificial progestogen and oestrogen and are both almost 100% effective.
Both the patch and the ring deliver the same amount of hormones throughout the 21 days, but neither involves taking a daily dose. A contraceptive ring is placed discreetly and securely in the vagina and doesn't need to be taken out for 21 days. A contraceptive patch can easily be applied to any hairless part of your body, and does not need to be changed for seven days. Both should be used for 21 days followed by a seven day break, during which you will still be fully protected.