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What are Contraceptive Pills?

Oral contraceptive pills are a type of medication which helps to prevent pregnancy through using different types of hormones; oestrogen and progesterone. Globally, it is the most commonly used form of contraception in women and when used correctly, is over 99% effective at preventing an unwanted pregnancy.

How Does the Pill work?

So - how does the pill work? The mode of action depends on the pill, although the general purpose of the pill is to prevent ovulation.

As part of the menstrual cycle, a woman's ovaries release an egg every month. This is known as ovulation. If this egg is not fertilised, the woman will ordinarily menstruate. When this occurs, the woman's level of progesterone and oestrogen will change. Depending on the type of treatment used, the contraceptive pill supplies the woman's body with a dose of the vital hormone to either; stop sperm from entering the womb and fertilising the egg; or preventing the ovulation process altogether, thereby preventing the unwanted pregnancy.

Oral contraceptives should be taken at a convenient and consistent time each day. They provide continuous protection against pregnancy, however, offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases; and so further sexual protection is advised.

Female contraception pills work with different cycle lengths:

21-Day Packs means that you take your pills for three weeks (21 days) and then you'll get your period during the fourth week.

28-Day Packs means that you'll take your pills for four weeks (28 days) and then you'll get your period the week after.

91-Day Packs means that you'll only get your period every 12 weeks.

The type of pack you use will depend on your lifestyle and doctor’s recommendations.

What Are the Benefits of the Contraceptive Pill?

Aside from being a convenient, simple, and safe way to prevent unwanted pregnancy, contraceptive pills offer a wide range of benefits too. Some of them are listed below:

  • Regulate menstrual cycles
  • Less painful periods
  • Prevent acne breakouts
  • Reduce your risk of uterine cancer
  • Reduce your chances of ovarian cysts
  • Relieve symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Manages endometriosis
  • Reduce menstrual migraines
  • Suits busy lifestyles
  • Reduces your risk of anaemia

Which Contraceptive Pill Is Right for Me?

There are three types of contraceptive pills. The type of contraception prescribed will depend on your health and lifestyle. If the pill is not suitable or applicable, there are several alternative prescription-only contraceptive solutions available.

Combined Pill: the combined pill contains synthetic versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and works by stopping the process of ovulation. Some of the advantages of combined pills include:

  • Regular, less painful, and lighter periods
  • Reduced risk of womb, colon, and ovarian cancers
  • Protection against pelvic inflammatory diseases
  • Reduced premenstrual syndrome symptoms

Mini Pill: the mini pill is a contraceptive pill which contains only progesterone and no oestrogen. Mini pills are best for women who have higher blood pressure, are overweight and who have a history of blood clots. Some of the mini pill’s benefits include:

  • You can use this pill even when breastfeeding
  • Ideal for women who smoke
  • No age restriction (you can still use this even when you are over 35 years old)
  • Perfect for women can't tolerate oestrogen

Low Dose Pill: the low dose pill is a contraceptive pill which contains synthetic versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, but has small doses of oestrogen. A lower dose of oestrogen reduces some of the side effects that may occur.

Non-Pill Alternatives: alternative contraceptive methods, such as patches, may be used and are recommended for those who cannot swallow tablets, or who may not remember to take a pill regularly each day.

Are Contraceptive Pills Safe to Use?

Oral contraceptives are safe to use when taken correctly, as instructed by a health professional. It is recommended not to take oral contraceptives if the following apply to you:

  • Undiagnosed vaginal bleeding
  • History of breast cancer
  • Personal history of venous or arterial thrombosis

What Are the Side Effects of the Contraceptive Pill?

The intended effect of the pill is preventing pregnancy. However, it's not without its side effects. Below are some of them:

  • Mood Changes - some women report that they experience some depression while taking contraceptive pills.
  • Migraines - some birth control pills can make migraines worse.
  • Appetite Changes - depending on the pill you take, you may experience an increase or decrease in your appetite.
  • Nausea and Bloating
  • Weight Fluctuations - because of changes in your hormones or appetite, you may gain or lose weight.
  • Increased Blood Pressure - taking contraceptive pills increases your risk of high blood pressure.
  • Unwanted Hair Growth - changes in your hormones may cause unwanted hair growth, although some women reported a reduction in hair growth.

Do I Still Need to Wear a Condom with the Contraceptive Pill?

Your risks of getting pregnant fall to only 1% if you take your pill as instructed. However, the pill will not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. So, if you have multiple partners, wearing a condom is a must.

What Happens if I Forget to Take My Pill?

If you forget to take your pill, your risks of getting pregnant increases. But don't worry, you can still do something about it. Your approach will depend on what type of pill you are taking:

Missing Combined Pills

If you missed your combined pill by one day:

Take the missed pill as soon as possible even if that means taking two contraceptive pills on the same day. You will not need additional contraceptives whatsoever.

If you missed your combined pill for two or more days:

Take the most recent pill, even if that means taking two tablets in one day. Continue with your usual schedule. Don't take the other missed pills.

Use other contraceptives (e.g. condoms, EVRA patches, etc.) or abstain from sexual intercourse until you have taken your pills consecutively for a week.

If the contraceptive pills you missed were in the last week of your hormone pills (ex. Day 15-21 for a 28-day pack), don't take the remaining hormone-free pills and start a new pack the next day. Use backup contraception if you cannot start a new pack or avoid sexual intercourse until you've got back on track.

If you've missed your female contraception pills on the first week and you've engaged in unprotected sex in the past five days, you might want to consider emergency contraception. You can consult with your doctor, or Express Pharmacy, regarding this option.

Missing Progestin-only (Mini) Pills

If you have missed one or more pills by more than 3 hours and are getting menstrual periods (even when breastfeeding):

Take one pill immediately and continue taking one pill each as per your schedule. Don't have sex or use backup female contraception for the next two days.

If you missed one or more pills by more than 3 hours, is breastfeeding, but not getting menstrual periods:

Take one pill as soon as possible and continue on your regular schedule.

Emergency contraception might be needed if you engaged in unprotected sex within the past five days. You can consult with your doctor or Express Pharmacy about this matter.

Need Female Contraception? Try Express Pharmacy Today

Female contraception pills are the most effective method to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Talk with our experts on 020 8123 0703 or browse our treatments to see what options are available for you. We stock a whole range of female contraceptives, including the popular Yasmin and Microgynon pills.


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If you see or buy a treatment online and find it cheaper with a high street competitor (whether or not they also sell online), as long as their service conditions are comparable, then we’ll match that price for you or refund the difference. The cost of the treatment must include consultation charges for medication without a prior prescription. Comparable service conditions include factors such as delivery charges and timescales (such as Shutl delivery), and consultation charges.

If you’ve already purchased the treatment online, please make sure you report the price match within 28 days of receiving it. If you’d like to buy the product but want us to price match first, please check that you’re providing the most up to date information you can obtain when you submit your claim.

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Please note though, that we won’t refund the difference in price paid if you could have bought the product more cheaply with an online-only retailer: examples of this include chemistdirect.co.uk, who sell only through their websites or mail order and not via high street shops. We also don’t match competitors who are in administration or closing down.

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