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What Are Oral Contraceptives?

The essence of oral hormonal contraception for women is to create obstacles to ovulation or introduce a fertilized egg in the uterine lining using progestins or their combination with estrogen.

How oral contraceptives work

Modern oral contraceptives – pills – are drugs with a very low content of hormones, which provide an almost a total protection against pregnancy. The history of hormonal contraception dates back to the first half of the 60s when scientific research allowed to offer women this method. It involves taking birth control pills that contain synthetic female hormones – estrogen and progesterone. These hormones control normal menstrual cycle. In phase 1 of a menstrual cycle, estrogen levels rise, leading to a growth of the uterine lining and preparation for possible fertilization. In phase 2, the egg produces progesterone, which stops the maturation and release of other eggs, and thickens the mucus in the cervix, thereby preventing penetration by sperms.

If conception did not occur, the hormone levels decrease and the mucous membrane of the uterus together with the unfertilized egg tears out during menstrual bleeding. This is how the hormones contained in contraceptive pills create a state of “rest” for the ovaries, whereby new eggs do not mature, and thus pregnancy cannot occur.

In the past, the reliability of contraceptive pills (that is, their ability to prevent pregnancy) was achieved by using high doses of hormones present in them. That is why very unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, acne, nausea, headache, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease were often observed.

Modern hormonal contraceptives contain very low doses of hormones, and this does not affect their effectiveness, but increases the patient’s safety under long-term use and carries very few side effects. Moreover, birth control pills reduce the incidence of ovarian and uterine cancer, and ovarian cysts. Due to its effectiveness and ease of use, hormonal contraception is widely used throughout the world. Today, there are different types of pills in the market. You should therefore consult a gynecologist (endocrinologist) to help you choose the right one for you.