Thinking about using the contraceptive pill? Let us help you discover which type might suit you


What are contraceptive pills?


Contraceptive pills are small tablets that you take every day (or for 21 days at a time) to stop you from becoming pregnant. 


They work by regulating your hormones, putting you more in control of your body.


What are the different types of contraceptive pills?


There are two main types of contraceptive pills, the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill. Both types can be used to prevent pregnancy.


Combined pill


Often just called “the pill”, it contains artificial versions of the female oestrogen and progestogen hormones, which are produced naturally in the ovaries.


The combined pill prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg each month. It also:


• Thickens the mucus in the neck of the womb, so it’s harder for sperm to penetrate the womb and reach an egg

• Thins the lining of the womb, so there’s less chance of a fertilised egg implanting into the womb and being able to grow


You’ll usually need to take one pill at the same time every day for 21 days, then you take a break for seven days before taking the pill again. There are different types of combined pills, and some can be taken without needing a break. Always make sure you read the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your pack.


When used correctly, the combined pill is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.


Who can use the combined pill?


The combined pill may not be right for you if you:


• Are pregnant
• Smoke and are 35 or older
• Stopped smoking less than a year ago and are 35 or older
• Are very overweight
• Take certain medicines


The pill may also not be right for you if you have (or have had):


• Blood clots in a vein, for example in your leg or lungs
• Stroke or any other disease that narrows the arteries
• Anyone in your close family having a blood clot under the age of 45
• A heart abnormality or heart disease, including high blood pressure
• Severe migraines, especially with aura (warning symptoms)
• Breast cancer
• Disease of the gallbladder or liver
• Diabetes with complications or diabetes for the past 20 years


If there are no medical reasons why you can’t take the combined pill, and you don’t smoke, you can take it until your menopause. 


To find out whether the combined pill is right for you, talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist, or access the Boots Online Doctor – Contraceptive Pill service.*


What are the advantages & disadvantages of the combined pill?


Some advantages of the combined pill include:


• It doesn’t interrupt sex
• It usually makes your bleeds regular, lighter and less painful
• It reduces your risk of cancer of the ovaries, womb and colon
• It can reduce symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
• It can sometimes reduce acne
• It may protect against pelvic inflammatory disease
• It may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease


Some disadvantages of the combined pill include:


• It can cause temporary side effects at first, such as headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood swings – if these don’t go after a few months, it may help to change to a different pill
• It can increase your blood pressure
• It doesn’t protect you against STIs (sexually transmitted infections)
• Breakthrough bleeding and spotting is common in the first few months of using the combined pill
• It’s been linked to an increased risk of some serious health conditions, such as blood clots and breast cancer


Where can I get the combined pill?


If it’s suitable for you, you can get the combined pill for free through the NHS. Places where you can get the combined pill include:


• Community contraception clinics
• Some GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics
• Sexual health clinics – they also offer contraceptive and STI testing services
• GP surgeries – talk to your GP or nurse
• Some young people's services (call the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 for more information)
• Some community pharmacies


Alternatively, you can access the combined pill through the Boots Online Doctor – Contraceptive Pill service.* Charges apply.


Progestogen-only pill


Commonly known as the “mini pill”, it contains the female progestogen hormone only.


It thickens the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm from reaching an egg. The desogestrel progestogen-only pill (more on this later) can also stop ovulation.


The progesterone-only pill needs to be taken at the same time every day. Not taking the pill at the right time, missing pills or taking the pill alongside other medicines can reduce its effectiveness. Always follow the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your pack.


There are two different types of progestogen-only pill:


• Traditional progestogen-only pill – if you take it three hours late, it may not be effective
• Desogestrel progestogen-only pill – if you take it 12 hours late, it may not be effective


If taken correctly, the progestogen-only pill is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.


Who can use the progestogen-only pill?


You may not be able to use the progestogen-only pill if you:


• Think you might be pregnant
• Don’t want your periods to change
• Take other medicines that may affect the pill
• Have unexplained bleeding in between periods or after sex
• Have developed arterial disease or heart disease, or have had a stroke
• Have liver disease
• Have breast cancer or have had it in the past
• Have severe cirrhosis or liver tumours 


If you're healthy and there are no medical reasons why you shouldn’t take the progestogen-only pill, you can take it until your menopause or until you're 55.


To find out whether the progestogen-only pill is right for you, talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist, or access the Boots Online Doctor – Contraceptive Pill service.*


What are the advantages & disadvantages of the progestogen-only pill?


Some advantages of the progestogen-only pill include:


• It doesn’t interrupt sex
• You can use it when breastfeeding
• It's useful if you can’t take the hormone oestrogen, which is in the combined pill, contraceptive patch and vaginal ring
• You can use it at any age


Some disadvantages of the progestogen-only pill include:


• You may not have regular periods while taking it – your periods may be lighter, more frequent or may stop altogether, and you may get spotting between periods
• It doesn’t protect you against STIs
• You need to remember to take it at the same time every day
• Some medicines, including some (uncommon) antibiotics, can make it less effective


Where can I get the progestogen-only pill?


If appropriate for you, you can get the progestogen-only pill for free from:


• Contraception clinics
• Sexual health clinics
• Some GP surgeries
• Some young people's services
• Pharmacies


Alternatively, you can access the progestogen-only pill through the Boots Online Doctor – Contraceptive Pill service.* Charges apply.


Which contraceptive pill is best for me?


If you want advice about which contraceptive pill is right for you, visit your GP, contraceptive nurse, sexual health clinic or pharmacist.


See your GP if you’re taking the contraceptive pill and you have concerns about it. They may advise you to change to another pill or a different form of contraception.

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