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Questions About Hormonal Birth Control

Estrogen and/or Progestin Contraceptive Methods

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Updated October 19, 2009

Hormonal birth control tends to be enormously popular due to its ease of use and effectiveness. These contraceptives use estrogen and/or progestin to help prevent ovulation. Hormonal birth control methods are reversible, so you can become pregnant after stopping them. Like other contraception, hormonal birth control has common side effects and medical risk factors. There are also misconceptions about whether or not women over 40 can use hormone birth control as well as whether these contraceptives should be used with other birth control methods and if hormonal birth control provides any STD protection.

What is Hormonal Contraception?

Photo © 2008 Dawn Stacey
Introduction to Hormonal Birth Control: This type of birth control is very popular and highly effective. It also allows women the ability to become pregnant once stopping. Hormonal birth control contains either progestin, estrogen or both. So what exactly is hormonal birth control?

How Does A Little Pill Prevent Pregnancy?

Photo © 2008 Dawn Stacey
The progestin and/or estrogen found in birth control pills (and other hormone birth control) work to help prevent a pregnancy from occurring. Find out exactly how this occurs.

How Can a Single Pill Do All That?

Photo Reprinted with Permission from F. Crosby
Read an explanation of how hormonal birth control methods work within the female body. Basically, it all comes down to the hormones found in these birth control methods – plus, there is a little bit of biological trickery going on!

How Do Hormones Cause Ovulation?

Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey
Learn all the details about how hormones work together, every month, in the female body to cause ovulation. From the hypothalamus in the brain producing GnRH (gonadotropinreleasing hormone) to the release the FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) to the surge of LH (luteinizing hormone) from the pituitary gland – all will be explained.

How Does The Pill Prevent Ovulation?

Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey
Hormonal birth control (like the pill) prevent pregnancy because this type of contraception does not allow ovulation to occur. Birth control that contains hormones includes two types: one supplies a steady level of both progestin and estrogen every day whereas the other type only delivers a steady level of progestin each day.

What if Hormonal Birth Control Fails and Ovulation Occurs Anyway?

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Hormonal birth control is not 100% effective, so what happens if you still ovulate while on one of these contraceptives? Well, if ovulation (and even fertilization) occur, there are actually three other ways that hormonal birth control can help prevent pregnancy.

What if a Woman Doesn’t Like to Take Pills?

Photo Courtesy of P. Eaton
Let’s face it, not all women like to take pills. Some women may not be able to swallow them, even if they wanted to. However, there is good news for those of you who don't like to take pills or can't swallow them yet still want to use a hormonal birth control method. There are several types of hormonal methods that basically work the same way as the pill, but offer an alternate delivery system. There is even a birth control pill that is chewable!

Do Combination Contraceptives Have Side Effects?

Phote Courtesy of D. Gintz
Combination contraceptives are those hormonal birth control methods that contain both estrogen and progestin, like combination birth control pills or the NuvaRing, for example. Though most women will not experience any side effects, there are some common side effects that do occur. Also, there is the potential for certain health complications when using combination methods.

What Are the Side Effects for Progestin-Only Contraceptives?

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Progestin-only birth control methods just contain the synthetic progestin hormone. These contraceptives are a good alternative for women who cannot tolerate birth control methods that contain estrogen or for those who are breastfeeding. There are some common side effects for progestin-only methods as well as possible health complications.

Are There Women Who Should Not Use Hormonal Birth Control?

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Hormonal birth control methods may not be suited for all women. Doctors rely on a risk classification system to help advise patients about the safety of hormonal contraception. There are definitely certain factors as well as health conditions that may influence whether or not hormonal birth control is the right and safest option for certain women.

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