The hormonal birth control known as “the pill” has gained its reputation firstly because it can simply be taken by the mouth. Secondly, when taken correctly, the birth control pill can be up to 99.7% effective, i.e. not resulting in pregnancy. Read further for a quick rundown on how birth control pills work.
Birds and the bees
Biology has taught us that a woman conceives when an egg released from her ovary is fertilized by a man’s sperm (one of the millions swimming toward the egg). This fertilized egg then attaches to the inside of the woman’s womb (uterus). Here, the egg gets nourishment and develops into a baby over the course of nine months. It is the hormones in the woman’s body that control the release of the egg from the ovary (ovulation).
How birth control pills work?
The pill and other hormonal contraceptives (the patch, the vaginal ring etc.) contain synthetic oestrogen and progestin hormones in minute amounts. The function of these hormones is to inhibit the woman’s body’s regular cyclic hormones and thus prevent the woman from getting pregnant.
Nonetheless, there is a combination of factors that can be attributed to preventing the process of conception. Generally, the hormonal contraceptive stops the body from releasing of the egg from the ovary (ovulating). Additionally, these contraceptives modify the cervical mucus so much so that it is difficult, nearly impossible (if you are lucky) for the sperm to make its way through the cervix and find itself an egg to fertilize. Moreover, hormonal contraceptives also avert the occurrence of pregnancy by altering the lining of the womb (where the baby should rest), so that the chances of the implantation of the fertilized egg are brought down significantly.
It must, however, be noted that the risk of pregnancy is MUCH less for women who take the pill properly. And properly means every day, at about the same time.
Also, it is better to not just and only rely on the pill. Using condoms (male) is strongly recommended to decrease the risk of STDs (and pregnancy, of course).
Pros and cons
Advantages of birth control pills:
- Easy to use
- Cheaper than other birth control methods
- Combination pills might even offer other benefits; easing menstrual cramps, reduced blood loss during menstruation, reduction in acne, even stronger bones! Using them is also known to reduce the risk of some cancers (those affecting reproductive organs).
There are also some side effects that come along:
- Weight gain
- Occasional nausea
- Mood swings (due to hormonal activity)
- Lighter blood flow during menstruation
- Sore breasts
The lesser common yet serious side effects that may be indicators of bigger problem like liver damage, gallbladder disease etc. are as follows:
- Chest pain (sign of stroke)
- Severe headaches (migraine)
- Stomach/abdominal pain
- Blurred Vision etc.
Nevertheless, birth control pills are the most widely used and safest of all methods – just as long as you remember to take them on time.
For this purpose it is best to rely on a routine or any of the reminders available on the market.
Mikko Törmä is certified pharmacist and has over 15 years experience in pharmaceutical industry, pharmacy and has worked also in Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Mikko is a professional writer who’s main focus is to make medical science simple to read and understandable, so that ordinary people can easily benefit from the research & recommendations made by professionals. His deepest interest is in the public health and to provide fair access to primary health care for everyone.