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Low Dose Oral Contraceptive Pills Minimize Side Effects

Updated on February 27, 2008

Today's oral contraceptive pills contain much lower doses of synthetic hormones than in the1960's when 'The PILL' (with 50 micrograms of estrogen) first went onto the market. "That's not helped me much", you may be saying to yourself but here's some information about low dose oral contraceptive pills that may be beneficial for you if you're not happy with your current pill.

Trial and error with different pill types is worth pursuing -bearing in mind that oral contraceptives are still not the perfect method of birth control for everyone. If you are on the 'right pill' to suit your body, you should feel exactly the same way as you do normally, if not a little better. Some women cannot tolerate the estrogen in combined oral contraceptive pills so are prescribed progestin only pills. Estrogen seemed to be the main culprit where side effects were to blame so 'low dose' pills were developed to minimise these.

Changing hormone levels within your body can result in side effects which vary for every individual. Keeping hormones at a consistent level in your body is the job of oral contraceptives so that you do not ovulate, your uterine lining thins and your cervical mucous thickens. These three events work together to prevent pregnancy.

Pills such as ALESSE and MIRCETTE are called ultra low dose pills as they contain only 20mcg of estrogen. These oral contraceptives are effective at preventing pregnancy but some women find that they have more spotting and breakthrough bleeding with them than with pills containing 30 or 35 micrograms (considered the norm today) of estrogen. Spotting and breakthrough bleeding often disappear after a few months on a low dose oral contraceptive pill.

Women who prefer ALESSE and MIRCETTE say they reduce headaches, mood swings, breast tenderness and bloating. These two brands also may be better for 'first timer pill users' as a 'low estrogen start' to introducing synthetic hormones into their bodies.

Progestin only pills or 'mini pills'

These oral contraceptives are 90-95% effective at preventing pregnancy compared to the 99% efficacy rate of combination pills. However, they do not cause the common side effects of estrogen pills such as nausea, breast tenderness and cramps. The risk of developing deep vein thrombosis and cardiovascular disease is lower with progestin only pills. Nursing mothers can use progestin only pills a few weeks after giving birth as progestin does not affect milk supply like estrogen does.

'Mini pills' must be taken every day at the same time with no break. If you miss just one pill or take it more than three hours past the regular time, you need to use a backup method of birth control for 48 hours after taking the late pill. Disadvantage of the 'mini pill' - apart from irregular spotting and breakthrough bleeding, is that it can increase the risk of ovarian cysts and ectopic pregnancy.

Sources:Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Elizabeth Silverman, obstetrician-gynecologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. Dr. Pamela Deak, obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of California San Diego Medical Center.


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