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What Is a Combined Pill?

By Christina Whyte
Updated May 17, 2024
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The combined pill, also known as the combination pill or just the pill, is a type of oral contraceptive for women which contains both estrogen and progestin. This is a very effective and popular form of birth control which is 99% effective when used correctly. Most women do not have any problems taking the pill, but some women may experience side effects ranging from minor to severe, and the combined pill may be inappropriate for some.

This form of birth control works primarily by preventing ovulation from occurring, which means there is no egg available to fertilize. It also blocks sperm from entering the uterus by thickening the mucous in the cervix. Women taking the pill are protected for the entire month as long as they do not miss doses. Severe vomiting or diarrhea, some medications, and the herb St Johns Wort can interfere with the effectiveness of the pill, and women should use a backup method of contraception or seek medical advice if they are concerned.

Women on the combined pill take one pill every day at the same time if they have a 28-day pack, or one pill every day for 21 days and then no pills for seven days if they have a 21-day pack. The last seven pills of the 28-day pack are placebos or reminder pills, and a woman's menstrual period should occur during the placebo/no pill days. Some women occasionally or frequently skip the placebo pills or no pill days in order to delay or prevent having a period either for convenience or to avoid painful cramps or premenstrual symptoms.

A wide variety of minor side effects may occur when taking the combined pill but usually go away within a couple of months. These side effects include nausea, headaches, tender breasts, spotting, and mood swings. Serious side effects are very rare, but may include potentially fatal blood clots. If a women taking the pill experiences sudden or serious pain in the leg, chest, stomach, or head, or has fainting spells, dizziness, speech or vision problems, she should seek medical attention immediately.

There are many different brands of combined pill with varying levels of estrogen and different types of progestin, and women who have problems with one brand should speak to a doctor about trying another brand. Some birth control pills contain only progestin. These tend to be a bit less effective than the combination pill, but may be a good birth control option for women who cannot take estrogen or are in a higher risk category for the combined pill, such as smokers. No birth control pill protects against sexually transmitted infections, so condoms and other barrier methods are necessary.

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