How Effective is Birth Control Pill?

person holding white blister pack

The birth control pill is an effective method of pregnancy prevention. However, it only works if you take it correctly all the time. If you miss a day, the chances of getting pregnant rise significantly.

It also helps prevent acne, makes your periods lighter and less frequent, and reduces menstrual cramps. It also protects you from STIs and reduces your risk of cancer.

Prevents pregnancy

The pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, as long as women take it consistently, every day. The hormones in the pill stop ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary) and thicken cervical mucus that makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.

If there’s no egg for sperm to fertilize, pregnancy is impossible. But even with the best of intentions, most people forget to take their pills sometimes, making them less effective than they could be. See your doctor or nurse practitioner for more information about the pill and how to use it correctly.

Prevents STIs

The pill is super effective at preventing pregnancy, but it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). The reason for that has to do with the way most STIs are spread – through direct contact with bodily fluids like semen.

But some methods can help – condoms, sponges, diaphragms, cervical caps and spermicide create a barrier during sex that stops sperm from reaching an egg. They’re a great choice for anyone, but especially for those with latex allergies or who can’t use the pill or implant. Also, practicing safe sex really helps.

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Reduces menstrual cramps

Taking a warm bath or applying a heating pad to your tummy won’t make cramps go away forever, but birth control can significantly decrease them. The pill decreases the amount of prostaglandin produced in the uterus, which causes contractions that cause period pain.

Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis often have very painful periods, and birth control can help reduce this. It can also improve acne and reduce the likelihood of miscarriage.

You can take the pill continuously without a break (a tailored regime) or with one hormone per day, depending on your needs. Speak to a doctor or nurse about your options.

Reduces risk of breast cancer

While current or recent use of combined oral contraceptives increases your risk for breast cancer slightly, that risk returns to normal around five years after you stop taking the pill. It also decreases your risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer, and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Some studies have found that people using hormonal birth control might have a slight increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots). This is true even for those with a history of blood clots, and should be discussed with your doctor. However, the increased risk for blood clots is much smaller than the risks of the many conditions that birth control prevents.

Reduces risk of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly types of gynecologic cancers. Studies show that the pill reduces a woman’s risk of it significantly, and the longer you use hormonal birth control, the lower your risk.

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Pills with estrogen and progestin stop your ovaries from releasing eggs and block sperm from reaching them. It’s important to remember that the pill can also increase your risk for blood clots and stroke, so talk to your doctor before you start taking it.

Tubal ligation (having your tubes tied) also reduces your risk of ovarian cancer, but so does DMPA (Depo-Provera), a shot you get to prevent pregnancy.

Reduces risk of endometrial cancer

Taking combination birth control pills may help lower the risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. This is likely because women on the pill ovulate (release eggs) fewer times than those who don’t take it. This means less estrogen and progestin exposure over time, which can lead to these types of cancers.

While some studies have found that long-term oral contraceptive use slightly increases a woman’s breast and cervical cancer risk, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says this minimal increase is outweighed by the significant reduction in ovarian and endometrial cancer risks. In addition, the risk of these cancers decreases many years after discontinuing use of the pill or a hormonal IUD.

Reduces risk of uterine cancer

The Pill is a hormone-containing medicine that can significantly reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. However, women should take the Pill correctly for it to work.

The most common type of birth control pill contains a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin. It’s over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken regularly and consistently. There are also minipills that only contain progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus so sperm can’t reach an egg.

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While the pill may slightly increase a woman’s risk of blood clots, it can dramatically decrease her risk of gynecologic cancers such as ovarian and endometrial. This protection even lasts after a woman stops taking the Pill.

Reduces risk of blood clots

Blood clots can form in the legs and lungs, limiting blood flow and possibly leading to death. The most dangerous clots are called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots occur in the leg and sometimes break off and travel to the lungs, where they can cause a pulmonary embolism.

Certain birth control pills — especially the combination pill and estrogen-progestin patch, gel or ring — increase your risk of DVT. But there are methods that don’t, like the levonorgestrel IUD and other progestin-only methods. These birth control methods thin the uterine lining and prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg.

Reduces risk of stroke

The Pill is a safe, effective method of birth control for most women. It protects against pregnancy, regulates your period and relieves common period symptoms like cramps. It also lowers ovarian and endometrial cancer risk. It may even reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation, a condition that increases stroke risk by causing blood clots.

But a small percentage of users will develop a stroke while taking estrogen-containing birth control pills. The risks are higher for smokers and women with migraines with aura, so doctors often err on the side of caution and recommend alternative methods of birth control without estrogen (like the pill, progestin-only pills or the copper IUD) to those at high risk.

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