The Oral Contraceptive Pill
The Oral Contraceptive Pill
19th Jun

2014

The Oral Contraceptive Pill

The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) comes in two main forms: the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) (which contains the hormones oestrogen and progesterone) and the progesterone only pill (POP).  Both are effective contraceptives when used in the correct way.  The decision to use one or the other may depend on factors such as reactions or side effects from certain hormones, whether you are breastfeeding and how reliably you will be taking the tablets (the POP has a narrow window each day that it needs to be taken to be effective).

As well as its contraceptive effect, the OCP can have other beneficial effects and is often used to regulate periods or decrease the amount of pain or bleeding during a period.  There is also an overall reduction in the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer (of the lining of the uterus).  Women on the COCP can also choose to skip periods by continuing to take the active pills, which can also help to reduce pain as well as being more convenient.

Side effects of the OCP may include breast swelling and tenderness, as well as some irregular bleeding in the first few months of taking the tablets. These effects usually settle down after 3 months. Rarer side effects include irritability, headaches and a reduced desire for sex. Although it is often blamed for this, there is no evidence that the OCP is associated with weight gain. A number of studies have shown that there is a natural weight gain for women over time, and this is unaffected by the OCP. Serious health problems as a result of the OCP are rare, but include an increased risk of developing blood clots in the legs or the lungs. If you experience severe sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, swelling of one leg, blurring of the vision or a sudden severe headache whilst taking the OCP contact your doctor immediately.

The OCP is not for everyone, but there are many options for both contraception and period issues. Speak to your doctor for more advice.

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