Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill

The best known pill is the combined oral contraceptive pill, which contains both the female hormones, progestogen and oestrogen. This is an extremely effective method of contraception, when taken correctly giving an effectiveness rate of 99.8% It works by preventing the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation).

As with all methods of contraception, there are pros and cons. The positives of the combined pill are

  • Very effective contraception
  • Easy to take
  • Not related to time of intercourse (ie prior planning not required)
  • Regular, usually light periods with less period pain
  • Can help acne
  • Protects against cancer of the ovary and womb
  • Can be taken until the menopause in healthy, non-smoking women
  • Not suitable for everyone depending on their medical history
  • Small risk of serious side effects eg thrombosis
  • There may be some temporary, minor side effects such as nausea, breast tenderness and ‘spotting’ (irregular vaginal bleeding)
  • Cannot be taken by women age 35 and over who smoke
  • Cannot be taken whilst breastfeeding

Remember, the effectiveness of the pill relies on how reliably it is taken. If forgotten for more than 12 hours from the usual time of taking, the effectiveness may be reduced and women are advised to take extra precautions or to abstain from sex for 7 days. The same applies during a severe attack of diarrhoea and vomiting.

Some other drugs such as antibiotics may interfere with the absorption of the pill. Always ask the doctor, nurse or the pharmacist before taking any other medication, including herbal treatments. St Johns Wort (hypericum) reduces the effectiveness of the pill.

All women taking the pill should try not to smoke

Further information

Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill - How to take the 21 day pill

This article published on
25 November 2005

Next review date 11/1/2013


Contraception and pregnancy

Areaof the body

Reproductive system

Male or female?


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