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The Pill (Oral Contraceptive Pill or OCP)



The oral contraceptive pill is the most reliable and popular method of contraception used by women throughout the world.

It is composed of two synthetic female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.

Other hormone-type contraceptives have also been developed and are delivered into the body in different ways. But the oral contraceptive pill still retains its popularity because of its reliability and simplicity of use.

Besides being used as a contraceptive the pill is used for a variety of medical reasons including irregularity of periods, heavy and painful periods, skin conditions, endometriosis and ovulation pain.

The pill works as a contraceptive by stopping ovulation, which is the monthly release of the female egg from the ovary. It also thickens the mucus in the cervix stopping the entry of sperm into the uterus, interferes with the lining of the uterus and thus stops implantation of a fertilised egg should fertilisation occur.

Minor side effects of the pill include nausea, headache, vaginal thrush, alterations in menstral flow, weight gain, depression, skin pigmentation, temporary infertility after stopping the pill, tenderness and enlargement of breasts, intolerance to contact lenses, diminished libido, fatigue and skin photosensitivity. Some women have a small increase in blood pressure when they take the pill.

Major side effects include heart attacks and strokes. Women who smoke, who are overweight or who are over the age of 35 have a greater chance of developing clots which can affect the heart, the brain or peripheral veins.

Women with a history of clot formation or high of risk of a heart attack should not take the pill.

Also it should not be taken if you have a history of viral hepatitis, diabetes, cancer of the breast or reproductive organs.

The pill should not be taken during pregnancy or if you are breast feeding.

Certain medications including antibiotics, anticonvulsants used in epilepsy and some tranquillisers can effect its efficiency.

Acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea can interfere with its absorption.

Most women who take the pill are not at risk, and suffer little, if any, discomfort. Your doctor will be able to advise you on any problems you may have and will check you thoroughly before prescribing the pill.

There are various strengths and combinations to suit any problems you may have. You should have a check up yearly and a full gynaecological examination whilst on the pill.

There is another contraceptive pill which consists of progesterone only (Mini-Pill). It can be used by women who cannot use the normal double hormone pill containing oestrogen and progesterone. Generally side effects are less severe or absent. There may be an increased risk of breakthrough bleeding. Acne and increased weight through fluid build up may be a nuisance. Ectopic pregnancy can occur and the Mini-Pill should be avoided in women with a previous history of ectopic pregnancy. The failure rate is slightly higher than with the original pill.

Your doctor is in a position to advise on its use and will discuss with you the advantages and disadvantages in your particular case.

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