What is the combined pill?
As its name suggests, the pill is a small tablet that you swallow. The combined pill contains 2 hormones: oestrogen and progestogen which are like hormones produced by your body. It's a highly effective contraceptive, but you need to make sure you follow the instructions on the packet very carefully because if you miss a pill you may not be fully protected and you could get pregnant.
There are various types of the combined pill available, some with different dosing regimens and some containing different types of hormones (oestrogen and progestogen).
The combined pill comes in 2 dosing regimens: the 21 day pill and the everyday pill. With the 21 day pill, you take one pill every day for 21 days. Then you take a 7 day break and restart your pill again. Normally you will have your period, or your withdrawal bleed, during this time. With the everyday pill you take one tablet every day for 28 days (some of these will be placebo pills i.e. contain no hormones) then start a new pack with no break. You will have your period during the placebo pills, but bleeding may also continue into the next pack. Taking a pill every day makes it easier for you to remember as you don’t break your routine.
Depending on the type of hormone in the pill, it can also help you with other things like reducing the amount of spots you get, controlling cramps and fluid retention, so it's worth taking some time talking to your doctor or nurse to make sure that you get a contraceptive pill that works best for you and your lifestyle. Some pills can treat heavy menstrual bleeding.
In recent years there has been many developments in both the estrogen and progestogen components of the pill. Oestrogens which mimic the body’s naturally producing estrogen and progestogens which may have skin benefits are available in Ireland. Again it is advisable to consult your doctor.
Would this contraception method suit me?
There are a number of different types of combined pills available, so if one particular type doesn’t suit you, you do have more choices. The combined pill has very high reliability when used properly.
Advantages of the Combined Pill
You may experience some extra benefits while taking the combined pill such as more regular periods, fewer or no pelvic cramps, lighter and shorter periods, less premenstrual symptoms, and a positive effect on skin and hair. Other health benefits include a reduced risk of ovarian cancer and cancer of the womb and less frequent occurrence of benign breast tumors. There is a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, but this risk is very low.
Your fertility (ability to become pregnant) will quickly return to normal when you stop taking the pill.
Disadvantages of the Combined Pill
Some women may experience mood swings, changes in sex drive, headaches, bloating, or bleeding problems when taking the combined pill. These vary from woman to woman and according to the type of pill that you take.
Remember that if you miss a pill, your contraceptive cover could be reduced and you may have to take additional precautions, for example using a condom. Talk to your doctor, or read the patient information leaflet in your pill pack.