A guide to the different types of contraceptive pills available

It’s over 50 years since contraceptive pills were first made available on the NHS and it’s estimated that around seven in ten of all women in the UK have used the pill at some stage in their lives. When taken properly, they are 99% effective at preventing pregnancies. However, despite their popularity and effectiveness, it’s easy to get confused by these tiny tablets. There are now so many different versions to choose from and it can be hard to know which is right for you. This brief guide details the different kinds of pill on offer and it could help you get to grips with this tricky subject.

Pills for severe acne and hair growth

It’s important to realise that in addition to preventing pregnancy, contraceptive pills can have other benefits. For example, as well as being an effective contraceptive, Dianette can treat severe acne and excessive hair growth. If you suffer from either of these two problems, it’s worth seeing whether these pills could work for you. Bear in mind though, they are usually only taken for six months or until your skin has cleared.

Combined pills

The most popular oral contraceptives are combined pills. These items contain artificial versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. They’re popular because they give regular periods and they can help to reduce period pain and heavy bleeding. They may also relieve premenstrual symptoms.

There are three main types of combined pill. The most common of these are monophasic 21-day pills. All of the 21 pills in each pack contain the same amount of hormone. You take one of them each day for three weeks and then have a seven-day break.

Another option is phasic 21-day pills. Packs contain two or three sections of pills in different colours. Each colour of pill contains a different amount of hormone. You take one pill per day and this must be done in the right order. When you’ve finished the pack, you have a week’s break.

The third type of combined pill is known as an everyday pill. As you might have guessed, you take these each day without a break. The packs contain 21 active pills and seven inactive pills. As with phasic pills, they need to be taken in the right order.

Low dose pills

Low-dose oral contraceptives are also available. Like combined versions, these pills contain oestrogen and progesterone. However, they give a lower dose of oestrogen. This means that they can reduce oestrogen-related side effects such as headaches, sore breasts and nausea. However, bear in mind that they’re associated with a higher rate of irregular bleeding.

The mini pill

For some women, the progestogen-only pill is a better option. Also called the ‘mini pill’, this does not contain oestrogen. A doctor may recommend this type of contraception if you’re over 40, you smoke or you’re overweight. Unlike combined pills, the mini-pill won’t raise your blood pressure. However, it might not regulate your periods in the way as a combined pill. Around four in ten women who take this form of contraceptive experience irregular bleeding.

The mini pill is taken each day without a break and, in most cases, you have to take it within the same three-hour window every 24 hours. There are exceptions though. For example, Cerazette offers a 12-hour window, giving you some extra leeway.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice

Choosing a contraceptive pill isn’t like selecting a sandwich for lunch. It’s a big deal and you’re not expected to make any snap decisions. If you’re not sure which type of pill will suit you best, don’t be afraid to ask for expert advice. You can contact your doctor or a reputable online pharmacy to get all the information and help you need.