Hormonal contraception works by slowly releasing synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones into the body and “tricking” it into believing certain conditions apply. Specifically, they alter the womb lining, making it more difficult for a fertilised egg to embed itself; increase the density of the cervical mucus, creating a harder barrier for sperm to penetrate; and finally, in some contraceptives, they can even stop ovulation from occurring at all.
This combination has made hormonal contraceptives highly successful in protecting against unplanned pregnancies. Popular oral contraceptive Yasmin, the vaginal ring contraception NuvaRing and the easy to apply Evra Patch all fall into the category of effective contraception methods.
But how effective is contraception, really? Many women still ask themselves this question and it’s the most common reason for hesitation when deciding to use birth control, apart from possible religious and moral reasons. The answer is much easier to understand when the various types of contraception are broken down into categories:
Combined contraceptive pills are oral birth control pills that contain a combination of synthetic oestrogen and progestogen. Depending on the brand they will contain various levels of hormones, designed to be taken at different intervals throughout the month to match the natural fluctuation in bodily hormones. The varieties include monophasic pills, containing the same level of hormones throughout the month, bi-phasic pills, which contain two dosages, tri-phasic, where three are present, and multi-phasic pills which contain several different dosages.
Generally, these pills are taken every day throughout the month, with a seven day break at the end where even though no tablets might be taken, women will still be protected. Studies have shown this form of treatment is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, with only one in 100 women falling pregnant when using a combined contraceptive.
For women whose bodies can’t tolerate oestrogen, progestogen-only or mini-pills are an effective contraceptive alternative. These are taken every day of the month and work in the same way as combined contraceptives except by using a single hormone.
They can be better tolerated if women have experienced difficulty with other oral birth control pills and studies have shown them to be equally effective< as their combined counterpart.
Women who find taking oral pills difficult to take or have had unfavourable reactions in the past can use what is called a contraceptive patch to protect against pregnancy. These are applied to the skin once a week and last a full seven days as hormones are slowly released through the skin into the body. This means that women who feel a daily pill is difficult to use in terms of management or remembering to take it have the option of an effective alternative method that allows for more freedom.
Contraceptive patches also have a high record of preventing pregnancy and are over 99% effective in this task.
Overall it’s very clear just how helpful hormonal birth control can be in avoiding pregnancy, however each of these effective contraceptive methods relies on the individual as well. Women who use oral pills sporadically or forget to apply their contraceptive patches are at risk of this high standard of protection slipping. Other contraceptive options exist, such as injectable versions, however these have for example shown to increase the breast cancer risk in women.
It’s always advised therefore that contraception is handled with discipline in order to avoid accidents and to consult your doctor first before deciding on a contraceptive method.
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