Description and Brand Names
Oral contraceptives are known also as the Pill, OCs, BCs, BC tablets, or birth control pills. This medicine usually contains two types of hormones, estrogens and progestins and, when taken properly, prevents pregnancy. It works by stopping a woman's egg from fully developing each month. The egg can no longer accept a sperm and fertilization is prevented. Although oral contraceptives have other effects that help prevent a pregnancy from occurring, this is the main action.
Sometimes a woman's egg can still develop even though the medication is taken once each day, especially when more than 24 hours pass between two doses. In almost all cases when the medicine was taken properly and an egg develops, fertilization can still be stopped by oral contraceptives. This is because oral contraceptives also thicken cervical mucus at the opening of the uterus. This makes it hard for the partner's sperm to reach the egg. In addition, oral contraceptives change the uterus lining just enough so that an egg will not stop in the uterus to develop. All of these effects make it difficult to become pregnant when properly taking an oral contraceptive.
No contraceptive method is 100 percent effective. Studies show that fewer than one of each one hundred women correctly using oral contraceptives becomes pregnant during the first year of use. Birth control methods such as having surgery to become sterile or not having sex are more effective. Using condoms, diaphragms, progestin-only oral contraceptives, or spermicides is not as effective as using oral contraceptives containing estrogens and progestins. Discuss with your health care professional your options for birth control.
The triphasic cycle product of norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol (the brand name Ortho Tri-Cyclen) and norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol (the brand name Estrostep) can be used for the treatment of moderate acne only if the patient is at least 15 years old, has acne that has not improved with topical anti-acne medicines, has gotten approval from her doctor, has begun to have menstrual periods, desires an oral contraceptive for birth control, and plans to stay on it for at least 6 months.
Sometimes these preparations can be used for other conditions as determined by your doctor.
Oral contraceptives are available only with your doctor's prescription.
Importance of Diet
Make certain your health care professional knows if you are on any special diet, such as a low-sodium or low-sugar diet.
Portions of this document last updated: Feb. 01, 2023
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