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Information on contraceptive methods and available treatments

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Dr Hilary Jones discusses the different contraceptive methods.

Contraceptives are widely considered to be the most effective form of birth control for women. They are available in a variety of forms including the combined pill (the pill), mini pill, patch and vaginal ring. Proven to be over 99% effective, they are the preferred form of contraception for more than 3.5 million women across the UK.

Our fast and convenient service is tailored to suit your lifestyle, meaning you can get your contraceptive delivered to your door the very next working day. Just complete our free and quick no obligation consultation to order your contraceptive today.

Click here to find your contraceptive

Available treatments

See list of contraceptives Yasmin   Bayer
  • Almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy
  • Contains both artificial progestogen and oestrogen hormones
  • Reduced risk of side effects – such as weight gain
  • Free same day and next day delivery service

Order Yasmin Now More about Yasmin >>

How effective is contraception?

Hormonal contraception is one of the most common and effective ways to prevent pregnancy. Reliable and safe, if used correctly, the treatments are proven to be more than 99% effective. The efficacy of contraception can be compromised if you miss a pill, forget to change the patch or your ring comes out.

By missing a pill or two, effectiveness can be significantly reduce and there is a greater risk of you falling pregnant - find out more below.

How does contraception work?

Hormonal contraception works in a number of ways to prevent pregnancy. It:

  • Prevents sperm from reaching the egg
  • Blocks the reproductive function in the form of sterilisation
  • Prevents an egg from being released
  • Prevents a fertilised egg from reaching the uterus

What are the benefits of contraception?

When used correctly, contraception can allow you to enjoy a healthy sex life without the risk of becoming pregnant. Aside from this, contraception may be prescribed to:

  • Alleviate painful periods
  • Treat heavy periods
  • Regulate periods
  • Treat premenstrual syndrome
  • Treat symptoms of endometriosis
  • Improve acne

What are the different types of contraception?

There are many different types of contraception available. Currently there are over 15 different methods of contraception. These include:

Combined Pill Mini Pill Condom (male) Condom (female)
Contraceptive Patch Diaphragm Implant Injection
Vaginal Ring Intrauterine device (IUD) Intrauterine system (IUS) Cervical Cap
Spermicide Contraceptive Sponge Sterilisation Emergency contraception

Hormonal contraception comes in over 30 different variations, including the combined pill, the mini pill, patches and the vaginal ring. For women who are unable to take hormonal contraceptives, the IUD (intrauterine device) may be an option, as this works by releasing copper rather than hormones. Alternatively, some women opt for natural contraception methods, such as fertility awareness, which involves monitoring the body for fertility signals and having sex only when the risk of pregnancy is low. However generally the effectiveness of this type of contraception is far lower than with hormonal contraceptives.

It's important to remember that only barrier methods of contraception such as condoms offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Which type of contraception shall I choose?

Knowing which contraception option to choose will depend on a number of factors which include, your age, whether you smoke, are overweight, have a medical history which includes high blood pressure or diabetes, or taking any medication. Speaking to a health professional can help you decide which option is most suitable for you. Alternatively our contraception tool will help to give you an idea on which contraceptive method may be the best option for you.

Contraception Tool

Mini pill vs the combined pill - what are the differences?

The main difference between oral contraceptives like the combined pill and the mini pill is that the combined pill contains two hormones (progestogen and oestrogen) and the mini-pill contains only progestogen.

The mini pill is taken for the full 28 days of your cycle with no seven-day break, as opposed to most combined pills, which are taken for 21 days. As a progestogen-only pill, the mini pill is a more suitable alternative for women who are sensitive to oestrogen, overweight or smoke. Whilst the mini pill is slightly less effective than the combined pill, both contraceptives when used correctly are effective at preventing pregnancy. Knowing and comparing the different methods of contraception will help you to make an informed decision in choosing the best contraceptive for you and your body.

What are the alternatives to the pill?

Although the pill is the most commonly used form of contraception, there are still are a number of effective and convenient contraceptive options available for women. The table below shows the different alternatives to the pill.

The mini-pill is taken in almost the exact same way as the combined contraceptive pill, in other words daily, but it doesn't require you to take a seven day break between pill strips. It also has the additional benefit of not containing oestrogen so that it's better to use if you are breastfeeding, you are a heavy smoker or if you have suffered from migraines. This method is up to 99% effective.Efficacy rate 99%
Vaginal Ring

The vaginal ring is relatively new and is simply the pill in the form of a vaginal ring that is inserted into the vagina and left for three weeks.

It contains the same hormones as the combined pill, in other words artificial oestrogen and progestogen, but because it's not taken orally it's less likely to cause gastrointestinal side effects and to be affected by conditions such as diarrhoea. As it stays in the vagina for three weeks straight, it reduces the risk of pregnancy due to incorrect use, which can often be the result if you forget to take a contraceptive pill. Efficacy rate 99%
Contraceptive Patch
The contraceptive patch is applied to the skin weekly for three weeks followed by a seven-day break, just like the pill. The patch also contains both oestrogen and progestogen. The patch is easy to apply and doesn't require daily use, but still provides continuous contraceptive cover.Efficacy rate 99%
The injection is a type of LARC, also known as long-acting reversible contraception. It only contains oestrogen, which makes it suitable for most women. The effects of one injection can last for three months.Efficacy rate > 99%
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
Intrauterine devices can be either hormonal or non-hormonal . These are T-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus and influence the womb environment to stop pregnancy. Most IUDs are made of copper, but some can also have the addition of contraceptive hormones. An IUD can provide reversible protection for up to five years once inserted.Efficacy rate > 99%
The implant is a device that is placed under the skin and releases artificial progestogen into the bloodstream to act as a contraceptive. The implant can remain effective for up to three years.Efficacy rate > 99%
Barrier methods

Barrier methods of contraception are non-hormonal and provide a physical barrier to stop sperm getting to the womb. Examples of barrier contraception include:

Cervical caps - These are small rubber or silicone caps that fit over the cervix to prevent sperm from reaching the womb. Caps need to be fitted by a doctor or nurse to ensure that they are right for you and that you can easily insert it again.Efficacy rate 92-96%
Diaphragms - Diaphragms are larger than cervical caps, but are made from silicone or rubber and are used with spermicide to provide a barrier to sperm reaching the womb.Efficacy rate 92-96%
Male and female condoms - Male condoms are incredibly widely used and are simply placed over the penis before intercourse. They effectively catch semen so that it does not enter the vagina. The female condom is inserted into the vagina, but unlike the cervical cap or diaphragm, it forms a barrier alongside the entire vaginal tract so that it can protect against the spread of sexually transmitted infections, just like the male condom.Efficacy rate 92-96%

What are the long-term effects of using contraception?

Reports regarding the pill, mini pill, patch or ring damaging your long-term health are false. You can take these forms of contraception over a longer period of time safely. This includes using contraception after childbirth.

It is recommended that you review your contraception every six months with a healthcare professional as changes in your health and body such as blood pressure, may affect your choice of contraception.

What are the side effects of hormonal contraception?

Are you at risk of experiencing side effects? Whilst there will always be a risk of side effects when taking any medication, contraception side effects are often minor and extremely manageable. Here is a lowdown of the types of side effects you may experience:

Considered common Considered uncommon Considered rare
Headaches Skin rash Vagina discharge
Nausea Severe migraines Breast discharge
Slight weight gain Loss of sex drive Increased sex drive
Slight spotting between periods Slight breast enlargement Melasma (Chloasma)
Mood changes Severe nausea Difficult wearing contact lenses

It's important to remember the side effects for birth control are often temporary. Women tend to experience contraception side effects within the first year of taking contraception, or when starting a new course of treatment, so do give each option time if you are experiencing minor side effects. It could still be the best option for you. Otherwise, there are many other options available for you to try.

For severe side effects, it is advised to stop your dosage and visit your doctor. Do remember to continue protecting yourself against pregnancy with barrier methods such as condoms, or avoid having sex until you have discovered the most effective method for you.

It has been proven that contraception, in particular contraceptive pills, can increase the risk of cancer, however this is an extremely minute amount. For more information of the cancer risks associated with birth control, please visit the NHS.

Does contraception cause weight gain?

Whilst taking contraception is the most common query in terms of side effects, research has shown that you can protect yourself against pregnancy without the added pounds. The majority of studies show that a small percentage of women experience some weight gain, however this can often be classed as water retention, and is a temporary effect.

Dr Hilary Jones, HealthExpress Medical Advisor

How do I know which contraceptive pill is right for me?

With over 20 different contraceptive pills available, it is essential that you find the one that is best for you and your body. This will usually depend on your overall health, lifestyle, and age. As oral contraceptive pills range from the combined pill which contains both oestrogen and progestogen, to the mini pill which contains progestogen only, knowing the difference between each pill will go a long way in helping you make an informed choice. If you seek advice on the contraceptive pill you should talk to a medical professional such as your G.P. Alternatively you can complete an online consultation here at HealthExpresss, where a doctor can prescribe the most suitable contraceptive for you.

Click here to find your contraceptive
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