The ten most frequently asked questions about contraceptive pills
- How many different types of hormonal contraceptives are there?
- Do the patch and ring work differently to the pill or mini-pill?
- Do hormonal contraceptives cause side effects?
- Do hormonal contraceptives cause cancer?
- What if I forget to take my pill or change my patch/ring?
- How do I choose which hormonal contraceptive to use?
- Can I use hormonal contraceptives over the long term?
- How effective are hormonal contraceptives?
- Does this mean I won't need condoms anymore?
- When should I start taking hormonal contraception?
There are six different types of hormonal contraceptives:
Monophasic pill (the pill): These types of combined oral hormonal contraceptives are the most commonly used. These require you to take a pill a day for a 21-day (three week) period, followed by seven days when you don’t need to take anything. All the pills in the pack contain the same dose of hormones. Dianette, Microgynon and Yasmin are popular examples of monophasic hormonal contraceptives.
Phasic pill (the pill): Phasic pills can be either biphasic or triphasic, which means that you take either two or three different doses of hormones during your cycle. Phasic pills should also be taken for 21 days of your cycle, in exactly the right order, followed by a seven-day break.
Every Day (ED) pill (the pill): Everyday pills are versions of phasic or monophasic oral contraceptives that are taken for the full 28 days of your cycle. Only 21 pills in each pack contain active hormones. The only difference between the ED pills and other versions of ‘the pill’ is that you take seven ‘dummy pills’ during your usual seven day break, to make sure you don’t forget to take your pill.
Mini-pill: The mini-pill contains only one type of contraceptive hormone, and should be taken for your entire cycle, without any breaks. These pills can’t cause side effects associated with oestrogen as they only contain progestogen and can be taken by women who are breastfeeding. They may, however be slightly less effective than versions of the pill.
Patch: Hormonal contraception doesn’t just come in oral versions; the patch supplies the body with contraceptive hormones via the skin. The patch should be changed weekly and worn for three weeks, followed by a seven day break.
Ring: The contraceptive ring is one of the latest advancement in contraception and is an effective alternative to oral contraceptives. The ring is inserted into the vagina, where it will stay for three weeks. After three weeks it needs to be removed and you should wait seven days before inserting a new one.
The patch and ring work no differently to the pill to prevent pregnancy. The only difference is how the contraceptive hormones are delivered to the system. Currently there is only one version of the ring and patch containing progestogen and oestrogen, similar to the pill. There is no progestogen-only patch or ring.
Side effects can affect you whether you should take the pill, patch, mini-pill or ring. Whether you will experience side effects will largely depend on how sensitive you are to the type of hormones inside the contraceptive. This is why you may need to try more than one type of contraceptive to establish which one is best suited to you.
Side effects tend to be more common when you start treatment, but pass within a couple of weeks as the body gets used to the new hormones. The most common side effects are headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, slight weight gain, spotting between periods and mood changes
Despite the bad press, there is very limited information that would suggest that taking hormonal contraceptives will cause cancer. These cases are very rare, and can largely be prevented by doing regular smear tests and monitoring your health. In some cases hormonal contraceptives are proven to prevent certain types of cancers.
Using the patch or ring later than usual or missing out a pill may cause hormonal contraceptives to be less effective. Missing one pill in general shouldn’t be too much cause for concern, but this will largely depend on the type of contraceptive you are using. Missing more than one pill or starting a course late, will have a much bigger effect and it’s best to wait seven days for the contraceptive to take effect again.
If you don’t replace your patch in time, you should replace it as soon as you remember. You’ll have to use a barrier contraceptive for seven days afterwards to wait for the contraceptive hormones to kick in again. If you forgot to change the ring or if it’s out of the vagina for more than three hours, insert a new ring straight away and use a barrier contraceptive for the next seven days.
It’s always recommended that you speak to a doctor or healthcare professional before changing to a different contraceptive or if you are using a contraceptive for the first time. This will ensure that you use a contraceptive that is less likely to cause side effects and provides you with the most comfortable solution.
Many doctors tend to prescribe the same type of pill, and don’t offer the choice of the full range of options available. If you want to know more about the different brands and types of contraceptives available, you can visit your family planning clinic or you can take an online consultation with us, and we’ll help you find the most suitable contraceptive solution.
You can use the pill, mini-pill, contraceptive patch and ring as a long term contraceptive solution, but it is recommended that you visit your doctor every six months to make sure that your contraceptive is still the best possible one for you to use. Changes in your lifestyle and health may change how your body responds to a type of contraceptive.
The pill contains both synthetic oestrogen and progestogen and is therefore considered to be almost 100% effective at stopping you from falling pregnant. The patch and ring also contain both oestrogen and progestogen. The mini-pill only contains progestogen and is therefore slightly less effective, but still provides over 99% cover.
Hormonal contraceptives can only stop you from falling pregnant, and can’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections or diseases. Always make sure that you use a condom when you have sex with a new partner or someone who you know has an STI to protect yourself from getting infected.
It’s recommended that the best time to start using a hormonal contraceptive is on the first day of your period. The patch, the pill and mini-pill will have an immediate contraceptive benefit if taken at this time. To make sure that your period is still regulated, you start using these hormonal contraceptives up until the fifth day of your period, but you will have to wait seven days for them to take effect. The ring, regardless of when you start to use it, will take seven days to become effective.