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Hormonal contraception is a popular method of birth control among all women. It will not protect against STDs, and should be used in addition to a condom.

The birth control pill, or oral contraceptive, is the most popular form of hormonal birth control. Combination pills contain hormones similar to the estrogen and progesterone made by your ovaries. These hormones prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation), and thicken the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from joining an egg (fertilization). Combined hormone birth control pills may also have other beneficial effects on your body. These include:

  • Clearer skin
  • Less menstrual flow and shorter periods
  • Regularized menstrual cycle
  • Reduced PMS symptoms
  • Less of a chance of iron deficient anemia
  • Slight breast enlargement
  • Decreased risk for endometrial and ovarian cancer

The pill must be taken daily. Certain pills, especially progestin-only pills, should be taken at the same time every day to ensure contraceptive effectiveness. Some rare health risks are associated with the pill, including blood clots, heart attack and stroke. These conditions are more common in women over the age of 35 who are on the pill and who smoke. If you are on the birth control pill, you should quit smoking. Other negative side effects may include:

  • Irregular bleeding
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings

The patch is a relatively new form of hormonal contraception that produces the same hormones in your body as the combination birth control pill. However, the hormones are introduced in your body through a thin plastic patch that is applied to the skin of the buttocks, abdomen, upper outer arm or upper torso once a week for three weeks in a row. For the fourth week of the menstrual cycle, no patch is used. The patch protects against pregnancy for one month. The patch is very similar in method and effects to the combination birth control pill. No results of long-term studies on the patch are available at this time, so most experts assume the same side effects and warnings as the combination pill apply to the patch as well.

The ring is a small, flexible circle that is inserted deep into the vagina for three weeks and taken out for the fourth week. It releases combined hormones not unlike those found in the birth control pill and the patch that protect against pregnancy for one month. The ring is also intended to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg in ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from joining the egg in fertilization. No long-term studies are available on the ring, so most experts assume the same side effects and warnings as the combination pill apply to the ring as well. The ring may also promote certain bacterial growth in the vaginal area, causing infections.

The shot is a dose of a hormone similar to progesterone that is injected into your arm or buttocks once every twelve weeks, or three months. The shot works to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) and to thicken the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from joining an egg (fertilization). The shot is a helpful option for women who cannot take estrogen (which is found in combination pills, the patch and the ring). The shot causes you to lose your monthly period, which may cause confusion regarding pregnancy. Other effects could include:

  • Change of appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Hair loss
  • Increased hair on the face or body
  • Nervousness
  • Skin rash
  • Spottiness on skin
  • Change in sex drive
  • Irregular bleeding patterns
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Sore breasts
  • Delay in return of fertility

Click below to read about related topics.

Introduction
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IUD
Emergency Contraception
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