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How do hormonal methods of contraception work?

Oral contraceptives (“the pill”) are the most popular and effective birth control method available. Hormonal methods of birth control prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation. They are available as pills, patches, vaginal rings and by injection. Hormonal contraceptives are about 95 to 99 percent effective. But whether the pill is right for you depends on many factors.

Types of birth control pills

  • Some pills contain estrogen and progesterone.
  • Other pills contain only progesterone (called mini pills).
  • Another pill is taken for three months straight, and a woman only gets her period four times a year.

Other types of hormone delivery

  • The patch contains both estrogen and progesterone. You leave it on for 21 days and then remove it for seven days.
  • The vaginal ring is a small circular device that contains estrogen and progesterone. You insert it deep into your vagina and leave it there for 21 days.
  • An injection called Depo-Provera contains only progesterone. It is given at your provider’s office every three months. Before committing to any long-lasting method, you may want to try a progesterone-only pill, which you can stop at any time, to see how you respond.
  • Progestin implants are surgically implanted beneath the skin and work for several years. The Norplant implant was taken off the market, but other implants are available.

In general, hormonal methods of birth control are safe for women with diabetes. If you are over 35 and smoke or if you have a history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, peripheral blood vessel disease or blood clots, these methods may be risky for you.

The contraceptive pill was the first medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for long-term use in healthy women and it still functions as a go-to drug for many different clinical situations. The pill works primarily through influencing the hormones that cycle in women naturally: estrogen and progesterone.

Estrogen stabilizes the uterine lining, reducing breakthrough bleeding and significantly lightening bleeding for each month that women are on the pill. Eventually, researchers discovered that estrogen also inhibits the development of eggs and helps to prevent ovulation. This combination of effects resulted in a treatment for menstrual disorders as well as providing contraception. Today, there are many different combinations of the amount of estrogen as well as the amount and type of progesterone available in different medications, including a combination transdermal patch and a removable vaginal ring.

There is a progesterone-only pill that works somewhat differently than the combined hormone pills and is an alternative for women unable to take estrogen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.