In the 1960s and 1970s when birth control pills were first available as a contraceptive option, choosing one wasn’t tough. There was one type of pill, with one hormone, one level of that hormone and, unfortunately, a whole lot of side effects. Since then, as the pill and its hormone levels have been refined, choosing a birth control pill has become a little more complicated. There are a number of types and brands to choose from, all of which have different benefits depending on your particular health and contraceptive needs.
Familiarize yourself with the basic categories of birth control pills. Combination pills contain both estrogen and progestin. They can have a either a steady level of the hormones in the active pills (monophasic) or varying levels throughout the month (multiphasic). There is also the mini-pill, known as the progestin-only pill, which doesn’t contain any estrogen. The mini-pill has a slightly higher failure rate than combination pills.
Assess your health. Different brands of birth control pills contain varying concentrations of the hormones estrogen and progestin, both of which can exacerbate certain health conditions. See your doctor so that you can talk about your family history of breast cancer and depression, have your cholesterol levels checked and have an evaluation of your tendency toward PMS symptoms.
Consider a high-estrogen combination birth control if acne is a big problem for you. These pills, marketed under the names Ortho Tricyclen, Mircette and Yasmin, can not only help existing acne, but also have a low chance of producing acne as a side effect. Likewise, the high estrogen birth control pill is slightly more beneficial to women with high cholesterol levels as, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can cause a slight increase in “good” cholesterol levels (HDL) and a slight decrease in the “bad” levels (LDL).
Choose a birth control pill with a lower progestin level if you are prone to or are diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder. High levels of estrogen have been shown to be helpful in relieving depression, while progestin tends to aggravate depression. Some brands to consider are Triphasil, Ortho Tricyclen, OrthoEvera and Alesse.
Take the mini-pill if you are estrogen sensitive or have a familial history of breast cancer, especially if you know you have the BRCA-1 gene (one of the identified genetic markers for breast cancer risk). According to a study in the journal “American Family Physician,” women who carry this gene have an increased risk of breast cancer with ongoing exposure to high levels of estrogen. For other women, the increased risk is slight and statistically insignificant.
Reduce the number of periods you have per year by choosing one of most recently approved types of birth control pills, the extended-cycle pill. Seaonale, Seasonique and Lybrel, the only FDA-approved extended-cycle, pills eliminate the week of placebo pills that women take monthly to induce withdrawal bleeding. Instead there are only four placebo weeks per year, effectively reducing your period to a once quarterly event.
- Smoking while on the pill significantly increases the risk of blood clots.