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HealthInfo Canterbury

Oral contraceptives

The pillThe oral contraceptive pill, often called the Pill, is a reliable and convenient form of contraception for many women. It works well for women who remember to take it every day.

The combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) contains two hormones, oestrogen and progestogen, which works like the natural hormone progesterone. They stop your ovaries from releasing eggs.

Each pack usually contains 21 days, or three weeks, of active pills and seven days, or one week, of sugar pills (non-active). During the sugar pill week you will bleed much the same as if you were having a period, but it will usually be lighter than your normal period. For this reason, the combined pill can help some women with heavy periods.

The progestogen-only pill (POP), often called the mini pill, contains a small amount of the hormone progestogen. You have to take it every day, and within three to four hours of the same time. It thickens the cervical mucus, stopping sperm from getting to the egg. It may also stop your ovaries from releasing eggs.

The POP can be useful for women who can't have oestrogen, which is in the combined pill. This can include women who are breastfeeding, get a certain type of migraine, have a strong family history of deep vein thrombosis or blood clots, and also older women. Your periods may be lighter or absent. They may also be quite erratic. Some women find this difficult and decide to use a different type of contraception.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed April 2016.

Page reference: 54615

Review key: HICAS-53138