Oral Contraception

Birth control is any method of contraception used to prevent pregnancy. A woman has many birth control options; which are appropriate depend on her age, overall health and lifestyle. One type of contraception, oral contraception, uses hormones to prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills are a form of oral contraception taken in pill or tablet form.

During a woman's monthly cycle, the ovaries produce an egg that moves through the fallopian tubes into the uterus. When an active sperm reaches and fertilizes the egg, it attaches to the wall of the uterus and begins to develop. Hormonal methods of birth control use hormones to prevent pregnancy. Most methods use estrogen or progestin or a combination of the two. Both hormones prevent the a woman's body from ovulating or releasing an egg. In addition, progestin causes the mucus within the cervix to thicken, making it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg.

Prescriptions for Oral Contraception

Birth control pills are prescribed by a physician after a physical examination. The doctor determines which type of hormonal method of contraception is appropriate for each individual. Most methods of oral contraception require the individual to take one birth control pill on a daily basis, or on a schedule determined by the physician. In order for the pill to be effective, it must be taken daily or as directed by a doctor.

Benefits of Oral Contraception

While the main benefit of oral contraception is the prevention of pregnancy, oral contraceptives may be used to treat other medical conditions, including:

  • Abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Acne
  • Endometriosis
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful uterine bleeding)
  • Hirsutism
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

Some forms of oral contraception may be used for emergency contraception. These pills may contain strong hormones and may be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy.

Risks of Oral Contraception

While most methods of oral contraception are safe, there are risks, which may include the following:

  • Irregular bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Blood clot
  • Headache
  • Weight gain
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Hormonal methods of birth control do not provide any protection against HIV or sexually transmitted diseases. Women who are older than the age of 35 or who smoke have a much higher risk of heart attack or stroke when using hormonal birth control methods. Women who are pregnant should not take any form of oral contraceptive.

No contraception method is 100 percent effective. Women should consult with their doctors about the different types of oral contraception available, and to get answers to any questions they may have about contraception and family planning.

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