There are two main kinds of contraceptive pill: the combined pill, and the progestogen only pill. Here we outline the basics of the combined pill.
What is it?
A method of hormonal contraception that acts on the female reproductive system to prevent pregnancy.
Missing the pill
Hormones are basically chemicals that occur naturally in the body, which are used to control certain functions. The combined pill contains two synthetic hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, that prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (as well as thickening cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to travel). It is available on prescription from a doctor at your local surgery or any sexual health clinic.
How is it taken?
A range of different brands is available, but usually come in packets containing 21 once-a-day tablets. This is followed by a pill-free seven days, when a withdrawal bleed happens. After that, you start another packet, and continue for as long as you want effective contraception.
- When taken correctly, the combined pill is almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy;
- It can reduce pre-menstrual symptoms, bleeding and period pains;
- Also offers some protection against ovarian cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease;
- The effects are reversible, which means women can become pregnant just as soon as they stop taking the pill.
- Protects against pregnancy but not sex infection. Always use a condom as well, to keep all risks to a minimum;
- Some women experience temporary side effects such as headaches, nausea and weight gain. It's important to stress that side effects shouldn't last long. If problems persist, talk to your doctor about trying a different brand.
Not suitable for
- Smokers aged 35 and over;
- Breastfeeding mothers;
- Women with high blood pressure or severe migraines.
(Note: if the combined pill is unsuitable, your doctor can advise on alternative hormonal contraceptive methods like the POP).
If you miss one pill
- Take the last pill you missed now.
- Continue taking the rest of the pack as usual.
- No additional or emergency contraception is necessary.
- If you've missed more than one pill, read our frequently asked questions about missing the combined pill.
If you throw up, or suffer from a bout of diarrhoea
The combined pill is absorbed through the digestive system. This means vomiting or getting the runs could compromise the hormone level required for effective contraception. To protect against pregnancy, be sure to use condoms for seven days (as well as continuing your normal pill cycle).
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