Oral contraceptives

Oral contraceptives are medicines taken by mouth to help prevent pregnancy. Also known as birth control pills, they contain artificially made forms of twohormones produced naturally in the body. These hormones, estrogen and progestin, regulate a woman's menstrual cycle. When taken in the proper amounts, following a specific schedule, oral contraceptives are very effective in preventing pregnancy.

Oral contraceptives have several effects that help prevent pregnancy. For pregnancy to occur, an egg must ripen inside a woman's ovary, be released, and travel to the fallopian tube (the passageway from the ovary to the uterus). Aman's sperm must also reach the fallopian tube, where it fertilizes the egg.Then the fertilized egg must travel to the woman's uterus (womb), where it lodges in the uterus lining and develops into a fetus. The main way that oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy is by keeping an egg from ripening fully. Eggs that do not ripen fully cannot be fertilized. In addition, birth control pills thicken mucus in the woman's body through which the sperm has to swim. This makes it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. Oral contraceptives also change the uterus lining so that a fertilized egg cannot lodge there to develop.

Birth control pills may cause good or bad side effects. For example, a woman's menstrual periods are regular and usually lighter when she is taking oral contraceptives, and the pills may reduce the risk of ovarian cysts, breast lumps, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other medical problems. However, takingbirth control pills increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots in certain women. Serious side effects such as these are more likely in women over 35 years of age who smoke cigarettes and in those with specific health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a history of breast oruterine cancer. A woman who wants to use oral contraceptives should ask her physician for the latest information on the risks and benefits of all types ofbirth control and should consider her age, health, and medical history whendeciding what to use. No form of birth control (except not having sex) is 100% effective. However, oral contraceptives can be highly effective when used properly.

Oral contraceptives do not protect against AIDS or other sexually transmitteddiseases. For protection against such diseases, it is necessary to use a latex condom.

Oral contraceptives come in a wide range of estrogen-progestin combinations.The pills in use today contain much lower doses of estrogen than those available in the past, and this change has made serious side effects less likely. Some pills contain only progestin. These are prescribed mainly for women who need to avoid estrogens and may not be as effective in preventing pregnancy asthe estrogen-progestin combinations.

These medicines come in tablet form, in containers designed to help women keep track of which tablet to take each day. The tablets are different colors, indicating amounts of hormones they contain. Some may contain no hormones at all. These are included simply to help women stay in the habit of taking a pill every day, as the hormone combination needs to be taken only on certain days of the menstrual cycle. Keeping the tablets in their original container andtaking them exactly on schedule is very important. They will not be as effective if they are taken in the wrong order or if doses are missed. Oral contraceptives are not effective immediately after a woman begins taking them. Physicians recommend using other forms of birth control for the first 1-3 weeks.

Oral contraceptives are available only with a physician's prescription. Somecommonly used brands are Demulen, Desogen, Loestrin, Lo/Ovral, Nordette, Ortho-Novum, and Ovcon.

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