Birth Control Pills

  • Involves swallowing a pill every day
  • Effectiveness:
    • Perfect use: 99%
    • Typical use: 91%

How Does It Work?

  • Most birth control pills contain synthetic forms of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
  • The hormones prevent the release of an egg (ovulation), thicken cervical mucus making it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus, and thin the lining of the uterus.


  • Pills are not prescribed for women of all age groups and health conditions.
  • The most serious risk to pill users is the increased possibility of stroke or heart attack. This is especially true for women with a history of blood clots and for smokers over 35.
  • Some women who use the pill may experience slight weight gain as a result of cyclical fluid retention or increased appetite. A clinician can monitor any weight fluctuations and may change your pill prescription as needed to modify any hormonal effects.
  • Nausea can sometimes be a problem on the pill but usually lessens after the first few weeks. Pills should be taken with or after meals to decrease the risk of nausea.
  • Some pill users may experience depression or mood change, while others have increased feelings of well-being. Depression on the pill may often be related to a deficiency of vitamin B6 and can be treated with a diet supplement.
  • In general, numerous medical studies over the past 25 years, involving hundreds of thousands of women, show that for most healthy young women, the benefits of using the pill outweigh the risks.


Pills must not be taken if the following conditions are present:

  • A history of impaired liver function, including active hepatitis, alcohol liver damage, or liver tumor.
  • Known or suspected cancer of the breast, cervix, vagina, ovaries, uterus, or malignant melanoma, at present or in the past.
  • Pregnancy or suspected pregnancy.
  • Severe migraine headache with “aura.”
  • Serious heart or kidney disease.


  • Relief from menstrual problems such as cramps, tension, and heavy bleeding
  • Protection against endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer
  • Possible improvements in acne
  • Reduced chance of iron deficiency anemia
  • Protection against fibrocystic breast disease
  • Reduced chance of tubal pregnancy
  • Reduced risk of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)


  • Prescription drugs and herbal medicines may affect the effectiveness of the pill. If you seek medical treatment, make your clinician aware that you are taking the pill.
  • Oral contraceptives increase the risk of developing four circulatory diseases:
    • Blood clots in the veins
    • In smokers—Ischemic heart disease (including heart attack)
    • In smokers and those with history of migraines—Stroke
    • High blood pressure (although in most cases it will normalize in three months of going off of estrogen-containing contraceptives)

Common Side Effects

  • Irregular spotting or bleeding may occur during the first 2 or 3 cycles of the pill. Continue taking the pill and contact the University Health Center Women’s Clinic if the bleeding is heavy or prolonged.
  • Some women also notice breast tenderness during the first month or two of pill use. We suggest decreasing caffeine and wearing a supportive (not too tight) bra. Avoiding underwire bras may be helpful, also.
  • Some women say they feel more emotional or have mood swings the first month or two on the pill. Usually this is transient and will resolve on its own. Please contact the Women’s Clinic if you think you’re having an unusual reaction.
  • Scanty or short periods, or lack of periods are common side effects. If you have taken the pill correctly and do not bleed after finishing the pack of pills, start the next pack on schedule and contact the University Health Center for advice.
  • Please keep in mind… Serious complications associated with using the pill are rare, however there are warning signals of which you should be aware.If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your Health Center immediately:
    • Unusual or severe headaches
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Chest pain or shortness of breath
    • Blurred vision or loss of vision
    • Severe leg pain

Starting the Pill

  • Start taking the pill the first Sunday after your period begins, but if your period begins on a Sunday, start the pill that day. If your period begins on any other day, start the pill the following Sunday.
  • Before you begin taking the pill, study the literature that is enclosed in your pill pack. This provides detailed information about the specific type of pill prescribed for you. If you have any questions consult the University Health Center Women’s Clinic.
  • It is important to have a follow-up visit within three months after beginning pill usage. Please make sure to call for a “Pill Refill Appointment” before you run out of pills (706-542-8691).
  • Take the pill at the same time each day, preferably with food to decrease the possibility of nausea.
  • Use another method of birth control during the first month when taking the pill. Many women choose to use condoms consistently even after the first month, as back-up birth control and to help prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Missed Pills

  • If you miss a pill, take the missed pill as soon as possible, and then take another when normally scheduled even if this means you take 2 pills on the same day. If this pill was missed during the first week you must use a back-up method for seven days.
  • If you miss two pills in a row, take two each day for two days; one in the morning and one in the evening and use a back-up method of birth control until you begin your next pill package. If these pills were missed during the first week, consider using emergency contraception; you must use a back-up method for seven days.
  • If you miss three pills, begin using a back-up method of birth control immediately. Contact the University Health Center Women’s Clinic for advice.

Learn more about birth control pills

Sexual Health Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Contraception