Hormonal contraceptives are birth control methods. Hormonal contraceptives contain estrogen and progesterone or just progesterone hormones in their synthetic form. These forms of birth control work to prevent pregnancy by delaying the release of the ovum (egg), thin the layers of the uterus making the environment unfriendly for the egg to attach itself, and by thickening the cervical mucus to reduce the chances of the sperm reaching the ovum in the oviduct (fallopian tube) for fertilization. Prevention of pregnancy is not a 100 percent guarantee though.
There are many forms of hormonal contraceptives that are being developed and tested by scientists and each is taken differently. Hormonal contraceptives can be taken by mouth, injections, patches on the skin, or by inserting into the woman’s reproductive system or under the skin. The method in which the contraceptive is taken determines whether it will be a continuous dose or a one time thing.
Some of the hormonal contraceptives are:
1. Birth control pills
There are two types of birth control pills: estrogen and progestin pills and progestin only pills. The estrogen and progestin pills are referred to as combination pills whereas the latter are often referred to as mini pills.
There are three categories of combination pills that you can choose from. They are:
- Monophasic pills: These pills are taken monthly and each pill gives you an equal dose of estrogen and progestin hormones. They come in 21 or 28 days of active hormones. The 21 day pills are taken for the 21 days then you can take a one week break from them giving your periods an opportunity to flow. The 28 day pills have active hormones in 21 pills and then the remaining seven pills have no hormones. This also allows your periods to flow. Monophasic pills are the most common type of pills prescribed to women.
- Multiphasic pills: These pills are also taken monthly however they have different levels of estrogen and progestin hormones. They are designed to mimic the normal production of hormones your body does during your cycle. Therefore, the level of estrogen or progestin in the pills reduces each passing day. During the last week of your cycle, you take pills that are inactive to allow your periods to flow.
- The extended pill: These pills are taken in 13 week cycles. This means that you will take pills with active hormones for 12 weeks and then on the 13th week you take inactive pills allowing you to get your periods. The usage of these pills will make you have your periods three or four times in a year.
Combination pills prevent pregnancy by:
- mainly stopping the eggs from being produced by the ovaries monthly.
- making the mucus in your cervix very thick to prevent the sperm from entering to fertilize the ovum (egg).
- making the uterine wall very thin to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.
The combination pills are the most effective hormonal contraceptives when taken as prescribed by your doctor.
The mini pill
As mentioned earlier, the mini pill contains progestin hormone only hence its other name, progestin only pill. The amount of progestin hormone in a mini pill is lower compared to that present in a combination pill and as a result will have fewer side effects compared to the combination pill.
The mini pills works to prevent pregnancy by:
- making the cervical mucus thick to prevent sperm from entering to fertilize an egg.
- making the uterine wall thin, unfavorable for egg implantation.
- preventing ovulation from happening. The mini pill is not as effective in doing this as the combination pill.
NOTE: The mini pill is not as effective as the combination pill to prevent pregnancies.
2. The patch
This contraceptive contains hormones estrogen and progestin just like the combination pill. It is placed on the skin and the hormones are released into the bloodstream. The patch works similar to the combination pill to prevent pregnancy. It is worn for seven days and on the 8th day you change to a new patch. This is done every three weeks and on the fourth week you stay patch free to allow your periods to flow.
3. The vaginal ring
The vaginal ring is a small is a small soft plastic ring that one places inside their vagina. It has both estrogen and progestin hormones. The vaginal ring releases these hormones into your blood stream to help prevent pregnancy. It works the same way as the combination pill and if used correctly it is 99% effective.
4. The implant
The implant is a small plastic rod that is placed under your arm’s skin. It only has the hormone progesterone and is released into your bloodstream once placed under your arm. The implant is effective for three years and after that you can have a replacement done. You can have the implant placed at any time in your monthly cycle and it will still be effective. The implant however has the possibility of stopping your periods for the period you will be having it on.It mainly works by preventing ovulation from occurring but can also thicken cervical mucus and thin the lining of the uterus.
5. The Intrauterine Device (IUD)
The Intrauterine Device (IUD) is a small T-shaped device made of copper and plastic. The IUD is T-shaped just like the female reproductive system. Once put in, the IUD works by releasing copper to prevent you from getting pregnant. This is in contrast to the Intrauterine System (IUS) which has the hormone progesterone to prevent pregnancy. The copper released by the IUD changes the cervical mucus making it very difficult for sperms to pass through it. It also prevents implantation of any fertilized eggs on the uterine wall. The IUD can be put at any time of your cycle and starts working immediately.
6. The shot
The shot birth control contains the hormone progesterone. There are three types and are effective for 8-13 weeks, depending on the shot you have taken. It works similarly to a combination pill and can be administered at any time of your menstrual cycle. The shot is very effective if you follow your doctor’s advice.
Advantages of hormonal contraceptives
Hormonal contraceptives offer a wide range of advantages to any of its users, other than preventing pregnancy. Such advantages are:
- lessening the pain women experience during their periods. Hormonal contraceptives prevent ovulation from occurring. As a result, your uterus will not have any contractions occur as they would if you were ovulating. Additionally, hormonal contraceptives give pain relief from cramps when used.
- balancing hormones that would otherwise fluctuate during your cycle that may lead to irregular bleeding, excessive bleeding, and acne.
- reducing chances of one getting ovarian cysts, and uterine cancer.
- lowering the chances of one being anemic. This is specifically for hormonal contraceptives that allow you to miss your periods.
- relieving symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
- managing endometriosis. This is specifically for hormonal contraceptives that allow you to miss your periods.
Disadvantages of hormonal contraceptives
Just like any other product in the world, these too have their own disadvantages. They are inclusive of:
- Sore breasts
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Can lower a woman’s sexual desire
- Mood swings
- Risk of getting blood clots (thrombosis)
Hormonal contraceptives can be used by anyone as long as they consult their doctor first and are okay with the changes hormonal contraceptives come with.