Contraception or better known as birth control is a method used to prevent pregnancy.
Contraceptive methods include hormonal contraception, barrier methods (condoms or diaphragms), intrauterine devices (IUD) and sterilisation. Hormonal contraception is an effective, convenient and simple method of birth control.
The various types of hormonal contraceptives available in the market include oral contraceptive pills (OCP), injections, implants, patches and vaginal rings. OCP is the most common choice of hormonal contraceptive used by millions of women around the world for birth control or family planning. But just how safe are contraceptive pills?
Type of OCPs
Generally OCPs divided into two categories:
Combined oral contraceptive pills (COC): Contains an estrogen and a progestogen. COC usually comes in a strip of 21 pills where 1 pill is taken daily, followed by a 7 days pill free interval; or in a strip of 28 pills where 1 pill is taken daily without any pill interval.
Progesterone only pills (POP): It contains only progesterone in each tablet and provides an alternative when estrogen is contra-indicated in an individual. It comes in a strip of 28 pills and 1 pill is taken daily. POP is a suitable choice of contraceptive for mothers who are breastfeeding.
Another type of OCP is the emergency contraceptive (well-known as the morning-after pill) which is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if a method of contraception has failed. It is important to note that emergency contraceptive pills should not be used as a regular contraception method. It contains a progestogen called levonorgestrel and is taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse.
OCP are attractive drugs that are susceptible to be misused as they are readily available in the market. Misuse of OCP or used for other purposes other than its intended indication; or used longer than its intended duration without any medical advice can lead to various unwanted complications.
So what do you need to know?
DON’T MISS YOUR PILL!
OCPs are misused by simply not taking the pill accordingly. OCPs are designed such that it has to be taken daily and preferable at the same time to maintain the hormone level in the body. Missing any pill will reduce its contraceptive effects and chances of getting pregnant will be higher.
DO NOT SELF TREAT MEDICAL CONDITIONS WITH OCPs!
Self-treatment of medical conditions like dysfunctional uterine bleeding, PCOS and etc. with OCP without consultation from a doctor is strongly not advisable and definitely not a safe way to take contraceptive pills. Upon initiation of OCP for these circumstances, a thorough personal medical, social and family history should be obtained and physical examination by the doctor should be conducted.
Meticulous attention should be given if an individual is present with conditions like hypertension, migraine, or personal or family history of blood clot. OCP should be used with caution in woman with the presence of risk factors like family history of blood clot, obesity (body mass index above 30kg/m²), long term immobilization (for example in a wheelchair), diabetes, hypertension, smoking, age over 35 years, obesity and migraine.
If OCP is misused in this group of women, the consequences could be serious where women are at high risk of blood clot in the leg or lungs, stroke and heart attack.
DO NOT MISUSE OCPS TO ENHANCE FEMININITY!
So you want to have flawless skin, and you decide on taking OCPs as OCP contains estrogen, the female hormone. There is often a misconception that taking OCP would enhance femininity. Some women would take OCP on a long term basis hoping for lasting beauty, youth and femininity.
Some may even take an over-normal dose of OCP to abuse the estrogenic properties of OCP for reasons of feminine attractiveness, female libido, flawless skin and more. Consuming OCP for these reasons is definitely or overdosing OCP would expose individuals to various side effects and complications. Again, this is not a safe way to take contraceptive pills.
DO NOT TAKE EMERGENCY OCPS TOO OFTEN!
Emergency contraceptive pills are evidently for emergency use only. It is used after unprotected intercourse or after a failed contraception method and is an extremely important pill to be taken by sexually assaulted victims to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Repeated use of emergency contraceptives pills is a type of misuse of the pill. Its regular use as a primary contraceptive method should not be encouraged as emergency contraceptive pills are not as effective as regular OCP and pose a higher possibility of contraceptive failure. It also has higher incidence of side effects like menstrual irregularities which can be very disturbing for women.
There are various types of OCP available in the market. Different types of OCP would suit different individuals depending on the person’s weight, family history, medical history, social history etc. The estrogen content in OCP may not be suitable or even contraindicated in some individuals. There are also various types of progestogen available in the OCP and each has different properties that would suit different individuals.
All women should be educated to know the right way of using OCP by simply understanding the principle of how it works, what are the side effects and also what are the risks of misusing them. Women should be counselled by medical professionals regarding the use of OCP including emphasising the positive effects of OCP when they are used correctly and also the side effects of misusing OCP before initiating OCP.
Hence, it is always best to check with a doctor or pharmacist for the best suited OCP to avoid any unwanted consequences. Those who are not suitable to take OCP should opt for other safer contraception methods which pose lesser danger to their health.
Next read: IUD VS IMPLANON