The Contraceptive Pill
There are 2 types of Contraceptive Pill:
The Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill (COCP)
The Progesterone Only Pill (POP/Mini Pill)
There are many types of contraception (birth control)- choosing the one that best suits your needs involves several important factors, including your age, lifestyle, medical history and plans for future pregnancy.
Welcome to Qoctor’s online doctor service which can provide assessment and prescriptions for contraception.
Our online doctor will ask you some questions about your health, and may advise a video consultation.
Once the doctor has assessed your information and decides the pill is suitable in your case, you can have a paper prescription sent to your home or local pharmacy, or medication delivered to an address of your choice, from one of our partner pharmacies.
About The COCP
- The combined oral contraceptive pill prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation.
- It is taken daily for 21 days in a row, then 7 inactive or “sugar pills” are taken, during which a woman will have a withdrawal bleed like a period.
- Some women may skip the sugar pills and take the active pills back-to-back for several months at a time to avoid having periods.
About the Mini Pill
- The progesterone only pill, sometimes called the “mini pill”, works by thickening the mucus in the cervix, preventing sperm from getting through to fertilise the egg. In some women, it prevents ovulation.
- It must be taken every day during the same 3 hour period.
- There are no inactive or sugar pills, so unlike the combined oral contraceptive pill, there are no breaks.
- It may be a suitable option in women for whom the combined pill is contraindicated.
Just as you would when you see a GP in clinic, you need to choose which of these pills you wish to take. Then Qoctor the Online Doctor will assess whether it is suitable and safe for you.
Qoctor Contraception Guide – what are the different types of contraception?
Scroll down for options
Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill
( COCP or “the pill”)
The combined oral contraceptive pill prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation. It is taken daily for 21 days in a row, then 7 inactive or “sugar pills” are taken, during which a woman will have a withdrawal bleed like a period. Some women may skip the sugar pills and take the active pills back-to-back for several months at a time to avoid having periods.
Progesterone Only Pill
(the POP or “mini pill”)
The progesterone online pill must be taken every day during the same 3 hour period. There are no inactive or sugar pills. It works by thickening the mucus in the cervix, preventing sperm from getting through to fertilise the egg. In some women, it prevents ovulation.
Contraceptive vaginal ring
This is a small flexible plastic ring which a woman can easily insert into her vagina. It stays in place for 3 weeks, and is removed for one week during which a period will occur. A new ring is inserted after that. It contains the same hormones as the combined oral contraceptive pill, but they are released into the vagina instead of the gut.
Diaphragms are soft flexible domes made of silicone or latex, which act as a barrier, preventing the sperm getting to the egg. They are fitted inside the vagina and cover the cervix.
Popular and widely available, condoms act as a barrier to sperm entering the vagina.
Mirena® Coil (IUS)
The Mirena Coil or Intra-uterine System (IUS) is a small T-shaped plastic device that is fitted inside the uterus and slowly releases a progesterone hormone. It causes thickening of the mucus in the cervix, so sperm cannot get through. It also prevents a pregnancy attaching to the wall of the uterus. A doctor or nurse must fit it, in a procedure similar to having a pap smear.
The Copper Coil or IUD
This is a small T-shaped coil made of plastic and copper. A doctor or nurse must fit it, in a procedure similar to a pap smear. The copper kills sperm.
Long-acting contraceptive injection / depo injection
This is an injectable progesterone hormone which lasts for 12 weeks.
Qoctor does not offer prescriptions for the long-acting contraceptive injection- if you’d like to discuss this option, we suggest you speak to your GP or family planning clinic
Implanon ® (subdermal implant/rod/bar)
The implant is about the size and shape of a matchstick. It is inserted under the skin of the upper arm. The doctor will give local anaesthetic injection to numb the area first. It contains the hormone progestogen, which stops the ovary from releasing an egg and thickens the cervical mucus so sperm cannot get through.
Qoctor does not offer prescriptions for the subdermal contraceptive implant/ Implanon- if you’d like to discuss this option, we suggest you speak to your GP or family planning clinic
Tubal occlusion by metal microinsert is 99.8% effective
Tubal ligation is 99.5% effective
This is an operation performed via keyhole surgery by a gynaecologist. The fallopian tubes are clipped or blocked, to prevent the egg getting into the uterus. It is very effective. It involves an operation under a general anaesthetic. It should be viewed as a permanent and irreversible loss of fertility, so you need to be sure you don’t want any more children.
Vasectomy- this option is for the male partner
This is a minor operation carried out under local anaesthetic which involves cutting the tubes that transfer sperm to the penis. It is very effective and should be viewed as a permanent and irreversible loss of fertility. So, a man needs to be absolutely sure he does not want any more children.
FAQs About the COCP
The contraceptive pill is a reliable form of birth control if it’s used correctly. However, some women tend to miss pills from time to time, which reduces the reliability.
- Around 0.3% of women who use the pill perfectly will become pregnant each year
- Around 9% of women will become pregnant if they take the pill correctly most of the time.
- More than 80% of sexually active women will become pregnant within a year if they do not use the contraceptive pill or any other method of birth control.
The pill should not be taken in the following circumstances ( there’s quite a lot of information here, but it’s important!)
Increased clotting risk:
- obesity with body mass index (BMI) more than 35
- a history of blood clots in your legs (also known as DVT/deep vein thrombosis), in your lungs (pulmonary embolism) or in your eyes.
- if a first degree relative (parent, brother or sister) had a blood clot before the age of 45.
- any condition (or a family history of any condition), which may put you at an increased risk of blood clots, for example Factor V Leiden.
- A significant reduction in your mobility for any reason, for example illness, or recent major surgery wheelchair use.
Increased risk of heart disease or stroke:
- if you have a first degree relative (parent, brother or sister) who has had a stroke, heart attack or arterial disease before the age of 45.
- if you have more than one risk factor for heart disease (such as smoking, being overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease)
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- a history of migraine with aura, even if only one previous episode
- if you have ever had a heart attack, heart disease, stroke, mini-stroke/TIA, atrial fibrillation (A.F) disease of the heart valves or blood vessels
- diabetes which has affected your blood vessels, kidneys, eyes or nerves
- unexplained headaches or new onset of migraine since starting the pill
Increased risk of breast cancer:
- breast cancer- now OR in the past
- a breast lump that has not yet been assessed by a doctor
- a strong family history of breast cancer
- if you are a carrier of a breast cancer gene such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.
Other reasons to avoid the pill:
- allergy to any of the ingredients contained in the pill (check the leaflet in your pack)
- history of weight loss (bariatric) surgery
- unexplained/irregular vaginal bleeding
- breast-feeding, pregnancy, or if you suspect you may be pregnant
- cancer of the uterus (womb), cervix or vagina
- liver disease, e.g. cirrhosis, hepatitis, jaundice, liver tumours
- current gallbladder disease
- organ transplant complicated by rejection
- inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
Some other conditions MAY mean the pill is not a suitable form of birth control for you-if you have any of the following, you should consult a doctor prior to taking the pill:
- high cholesterol or triglycerides
- obesity with BMI between 30 and 35
- history of organ transplant NOT complicated by rejection
- history of high blood pressure in a previous pregnancy
- if you have a parent, brother, sister or child who had a blood clot after the age of 45.
- rheumatic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus (SLE)
- kidney disease
- sickle cell disease
- history of organ transplant (not complicated by rejection)
- conditions causing malabsorption (i.e. the gut does not absorb food & medicines properly), such as coeliac disease or ulcerative colitis.
If you take the contraceptive pill and any of the issues above concern you, it’s advisable to speak to your doctor.
The contraceptive pill DOES increase your risk of getting a blood clot, as compared to a woman who is not on the pill.
- We know that women who use the pill for birth control have a higher risk of developing blood clots
- Some forms of the contraceptive pill cause a higher risk of clots than others-depending on the type of progesterone.
- If your contraceptive pill contains the following types of progesterone, there is a higher clotting risk : desogestrel, drosperinone, gestodene, & norgestimate.
- Therefore, if possible, it is safer to take a pill containing a lower risk progesterone: levonorgestrel, norgestrel or norethisterone.
- If you smoke whilst taking the pill, your risk of a clot is elevated further.
- In the rare event of a clot, a blood vessel can be blocked, leading to stroke, heart attack , DVT or pulmonary embolism. These conditions may be fatal.
- However, it’s important to remember that your risk of developing a blood clot when taking the pill is still lower than the risk of developing a clot when pregnant.
- Long haul flights can also increase the risk of clotting- women who take the pill should watch for symptoms of a clot in the days and weeks after a flight.
- Symptoms of a clot include the following:
- Pain or swelling in the leg
- Sharp chest pain worse on taking a deep breath, unexplained shortness of breath, and/or coughing up blood
- Numbness or weakness of an arm or leg, or sudden problems with speech or eyesight
If you use the contraceptive pill for birth control and are concerned about the risk of a blood clot, we advise that you speak to your doctor
- Taking the pill increases the risk of some types of cancer but may protect against others
- Your overall risk of cancer is lower if you take the pill
- Breast cancer occurs more often in women who take the pill- all women are advised to check their breasts regularly, and see a doctor if they notice changes
- Women who use the pill for birth control may also have a small increase in risk for cervical cancer. It is therefore important to have regular pap smears.
- However, the pill may reduce your risk of cancer of the uterus, ovary, and bowel
Most women who use the contraceptive pill for birth control do not get any side effects
- Serious side effects from the contraceptive pill are very uncommon
- It may cause a high blood pressure. You should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year if you take the pill for birth control.
- Weight-gain is not a proven side-effect of the contraceptive pill
- There is no convincing evidence that the pill causes mood changes
- Temporary side effects include breast tenderness, nausea, acne, skin pigmentation changes and headaches.
- If side-effects don’t settle within 2 to 3 months you should consider trying a different form of birth control.
- If you are breastfeeding, the pill is not recommended as birth control because it can reduce the flow of milk.
- There are other more suitable types of birth control available such as the mini pill.
It used to be advised that antibiotics reduce the reliability of the contraceptive pill,in terms of birth control. However, we now know that most antibiotics have no effect on the pill- the exceptions are some uncommonly used antibiotics such as Rifampicin and Rifabutin. For most commonly used antibiotics, there is no impact on birth control, and added precautions are not needed.
Yes. If you miss a pill and are worried your birth control has been interrupted, it’s possible to take the morning after pill. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor, and follow the instructions carefully.
There are two types of emergency contraceptive pill in Australia
- Levonorgestrel (brands include Levonelle, Postinor, Postella, Postrelle and Norlevo ) is taken as a single dose within 72 hours of sex, and is available from a pharmacy without a prescription.
- A newer option is Ulipristal Acetate (the brand name is EllaOne) can be used up to 5 days after sex, but requires a prescription from a doctor and is usually a little more expensive.
FAQs About the Mini Pill (POP)
- The mini pill (progesterone only pill) works by thickening the mucus in the cervix, preventing sperm from getting through to fertilise the egg. In some women, it also prevents ovulation.
- It must be taken every day during the same 3 hour period, otherwise pregnancy may occur.. There are no inactive or sugar pills, so unlike the combined oral contraceptive pill, there are no breaks- you take a pill every day.
- Most women get no side effects
- Some women get side effects such as irregular bleeding, headaches, acne, breast tenderness or changes in mood.
If used perfectly it is more than 99% effective, though with typical or “normal” use, it is about 91% effective
Yes, it can be used when breastfeeding, as it does not affect the flow of milk (whereas the combined oral contraceptive pill may reduce breast milk supply)
The POP is not usually the first choice if a woman wants to regulate her menstrual cycle. This is because the POP has different effects in different women- some may get irregular bleeding, others may get no period at all. So, whilst it may work out well for some users, it is not predictable (unlike the combined oral contraceptive pill or COCP, which tends to give a regular bleeding pattern).
Whilst there is evidence that the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) appears to cause a slight increase in breast cancer during use and for 5-10 years after stopping, the POP has not been connected to any increase in breast cancer.
Whilst the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) is known to increase a woman’s risk of developing a clot, the risk of having a clot when using the POP is much lower.
No, if you wish to become pregnant, there is little or no delay to return to fertility when you stop taking the progesterone only pill.
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