Women's Health Friday July 19, 2013

Female contraception - myth vs fact

Earlier this month, Dr Hilary Jones took to the streets of London to find out how much the average woman really knows about female contraception. His mission was simple. To dispel the common beliefs associated with the contraceptive pill, and to ultimately separate myth from fact.

Common myths & facts

Over 3.5 million women in the UK take the contraceptive pill. Yet despite these figures, knowledge about oral contraception is still somewhat limited. Earlier this month Dr Hilary Jones and the HealthExpress team took to the streets of Soho to find out what the most common myths surrounding the pill were. After asking a number of women what they thought were the main side effects caused by the pill, it was found that weight gain was believed to be the shared consensus amongst women. However, in truth the myth that the pill causes weight gain is not true. Although it is true that short term bloating and water retention can sometimes be caused by oestrogen in the combined pill, while the progestogen in both the combined and the mini pill can in some cases affect appetite, there is no evidence to suggest that the hormones themselves cause physical weight gain.

Other suggested side effects put forward by members of the public were mood swings, skin issues and tiredness. It is normal for women to experience mild side effects when starting the pill, especially if you are taking the pill for the first time. However, this is simply a result of your body adapting to the synthetic hormones in the pill. In truth any side effects that do occur are usually temporary and tend to disappear after a few months. Although it is true that added hormones may cause slight skin changes, contraceptives such as Dianette have been clinically proven to provide skin benefits and treat skin that is acne prone.

The difference between the combined pill and the mini pill.

After interviewing members of the public it became clear that many women did not know the differences between the pill and the mini pill. There are two types oral contraception: the combined pill, and the mini pill.

The combined pill contains both synthetic versions of the female hormones, oestrogen and progestogen. As well as being the most common form of birth control in the UK, if used correctly, the combined pill is almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. It also provides treatment for heavy periods, premenstrual syndrome and endometriosis. Common forms of the combined pill include Yasmin, Cilest and Microgynon.

The mini pill also known as the progestogen pill (POP) is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Unlike the combined pill, the mini pill contains progestogen only and is considered to be a suitable contraceptive option, for women who for various reasons cannot tolerate the oestrogen hormone. Common forms of the mini pill include Cerazette and Noriday.

Choosing the right contraceptive pill

It is important that you know the differences between these oral contraceptive pills, as the key factors associated with each pill will help you to find the pill that is most suitable for your body and lifestyle. More importantly knowing which pill is suited most to you, will help to significantly reduce your risk of side effects.

Separating myth from fact of female contraception will help to give you a better understanding of your contraception and may help you make an informed choice in the future. Finding the right contraceptive pill for you can take time. It is not uncommon for women to have to try several varieties before finding one that suits them. A GP or reputable online clinic such as HealthExpress will be able to provide you with expert medical advice from a qualified doctor, to help you choose your contraceptive. For further advice about oral contraception, visit our contraception section.

Dr Hilary Jones is chief medical adviser at HealthExpress

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