Contraception

Contraception is a regimen of one or more actions, devices, or medications followed in order to deliberately prevent or reduce the likelihood of pregnancy or childbirth

The Pill
With perfect use — if a woman follows the directions and never misses any pills — the effectiveness rate of the pill tops 99 percent. However, among typical users of combined estrogen and progestin pills, the effectiveness rate is 92 percent, meaning that eight out of 100 women taking it for one year will get pregnant.

Side effects may include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, decreased sex drive (libido) and depression. Researchers have failed to show a link between taking the pill and weight gain. The most serious potential complication is a slightly increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and blood clots. Women should talk to their doctors about how their health history and age may affect their risks with hormonal contraception.

Women with the following characteristics should not take combination estrogen and progestin pills:

  • Age 35 or older and currently smoke
  • A history of cardiovascular disease
  • A history of breast, uterine or liver cancer
  • A history of blood clots in the legs or lungs

The pill doesn't provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

How to use the pill
The pill is available in a range of hormonal concentrations. If a woman decides on the pill, her doctor will determine which formula best meets her needs. She should take the pill according to the most recent package insert, which provides instructions on when to begin the pill, whether backup contraception will be needed at certain times and what to do if a pill is missed. Using the pill to decrease the number of menstrual periods a woman has in a year has been demonstrated to be safe and is a feature of some oral contraceptive regimens.

The Patch
The patch slowly releases the hormones estrogen and progestin through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Side effects and health risks
The most common side effects are skin irritation, headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, decreased sex drive (libido) and depression. Women who use the patch may be at a slightly increased risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots. Users of the patch are exposed to higher levels of estrogen — about 60 percent greater — than are users of contemporary birth control pills. Increased exposure to estrogen may increase the risk of side effects, but that has not yet been demonstrated.

Women should not use the patch if any of the following characteristics describe them:

  • Age 35 or older and currently smoke
  • A history of cardiovascular disease
  • A history of breast, uterine or liver cancer
  • A history of blood clots in the legs or lungs

The patch doesn't protect against STDs.

How to use the patch
If a woman decides on the patch, she should apply a patch weekly for three consecutive weeks. The fourth week is patch-free, which allows her to have her menstrual period. The patch should be applied to the userís buttocks, lower abdomen or upper body, but not the breasts.

Here are a few additional tips for patch use:

  • Do not apply oils, creams or cosmetics near the patch.
  • Users may participate in their regular activities, including swimming and bathing, while wearing the patch.
  • If the patch becomes detached, it should be replaced with a new patch immediately. Users should refer to the package insert for information on whether a backup method of birth control is needed.