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A lot of attention has been directed in recent months at the topic of birth control. For the uninitiated, however, hearing talk about “the pill” may lead them to think only one type of birth control exists. In reality, there are many different types of birth control pill, and each one has its own unique pros and cons.

Roughly 12 million women take birth control pills, and when used correctly, the pill is highly effective preventing pregnancy. Of course the key for the effective use of birth control, as with any medication, is it being used correctly. Each year, approximately eight percent of women on birth control become unintentionally pregnant. In the majority of these cases, the pregnancy was the result of the woman forgetting to regularly take her birth control. When precisely used, ideally at the same time every day, only one percent of women taking birth control become unintentionally pregnant.

So while there’s little doubt about the effectiveness of the pill, the type of birth control that best suits a woman’s individual needs depends on how meticulous she plans on being. Other birth control options, such as intrauterine devices (IUD) and contraceptive implants, don’t require any daily action, and feature much higher success rate at preventing pregnancy. However, these types of birth control are more invasive and typically cost more.

Types of Pills
The two most common types of birth control pills are progestin only pills and combination pills. Most varieties of these types of pills are available in 21-day or 28-day packs, and are grouped depending on the amount of progestin and/or estrogen they contain.

Combination pills contain both progestin and estrogen, and account for the majority of birth control pills taken by women. In addition to preventing pregnancy, combination pills also offer women a variety of secondary benefits, which can include:

  • Regular, shorter, and less painful periods
  • A reduction in the frequency or severity of migraines caused by menstruation
  • Improved acne
  • Decreased risk of developing uterine and ovarian cancer
  • Decreased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Possible improvement of bone density in prior to menopause

Every type of combination pill does have some potentially negative side effects, including an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and potentially deadly blood clots, a risk that rises in women over the age of 35 who smoke. The Food and Drug Administration actually recommends that women who fall into this category, and women who have a family history of stroke, heart attack, or blood clots, not take any type of combination pill. Birth control related blood clots are rare, however, in women who don’t smoke or have a family history of known risk factors.

Progestin only pills, also referred to as the mini pill, are most commonly used by mothers who are nursing, and by women who have pre-existing risk factors that make combination pills an unsuitable alternative. Women who take progestin only pills must be very meticulous in how they take their pill. Even just a three hour delay in taking progestin pills could cause ovulation to begin. Progestin only pills are ideal for nursing mothers who already have a low risk of getting pregnant since nursing naturally lowers a woman’s fertility.

The type of birth control that is right for a woman is a personal decision. Talk with our doctor about what option might be right for your lifestyle.

Timothy Lemke blogs about womean’s health for Dr. Bruno da. Costa, a dentist in Beaverton OR at Harmony Dental.