Health Guide
Drug Guide

Estrogen and progestin oral contraceptives (Oral route)

Uses of This Medicine:

Oral contraceptives are known also as the Pill, OCs, BCs, BC tablets, or birth control pills. This medicine usually contains two types of hormones, estrogens and progestins and, when taken properly, prevents pregnancy. It works by stopping a woman's egg from fully developing each month. The egg can no longer accept a sperm and fertilization is prevented. Although oral contraceptives have other effects that help prevent a pregnancy from occurring, this is the main action.

Sometimes a woman's egg can still develop even though the medication is taken once each day, especially when more than 24 hours pass between two doses. In almost all cases when the medicine was taken properly and an egg develops, fertilization can still be stopped by oral contraceptives. This is because oral contraceptives also thicken cervical mucus at the opening of the uterus. This makes it hard for the partner's sperm to reach the egg. In addition, oral contraceptives change the uterus lining just enough so that an egg will not stop in the uterus to develop. All of these effects make it difficult to become pregnant when properly taking an oral contraceptive.

No contraceptive method is 100 percent effective. Studies show that fewer than one of each one hundred women correctly using oral contraceptives becomes pregnant during the first year of use. Birth control methods such as having surgery to become sterile or not having sex are more effective. Using condoms, diaphragms, progestin-only oral contraceptives, or spermicides is not as effective as using oral contraceptives containing estrogens and progestins. Discuss with your health care professional your options for birth control.

The triphasic cycle product of norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol (the brand name Ortho Tri-Cyclen) and norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol (the brand name Estrostep) can be used for the treatment of moderate acne only if the patient is at least 15 years old, has acne that has not improved with topical anti-acne medicines, has gotten approval from her doctor, has begun to have menstrual periods, desires an oral contraceptive for birth control, and plans to stay on it for at least 6 months.

Sometimes these preparations can be used for other conditions as determined by your doctor.

Oral contraceptives are available only with your doctor's prescription.

Once a medicine has been approved for marketing for a certain use, experience may show that it is also useful for other medical problems. Although these uses are not included in product labeling, oral contraceptives are used in certain patients with the following medical conditions:

For patients taking this medicine for emergency contraception:

For patients taking this medicine for hirsutism:

For patients taking this medicine for endometriosis:

Make certain your health care professional knows if you are on any special diet, such as a low-sodium or low-sugar diet.

Before Using This Medicine:


Tell your doctor if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to medicines in this group or any other medicines. Also tell your health care professional if you have any other types of allergies, such as to foods dyes, preservatives, or animals. For non-prescription products, read the label or package ingredients carefully.


This medicine is frequently used for birth control in teenage females and has not been shown to cause different side effects or problems than it does in adults. Some teenagers may need extra information on the importance of taking this medication exactly as prescribed.


Oral contraceptives are not recommended for use during pregnancy and should be discontinued if you become pregnant or think you are pregnant. When oral contraceptives were accidently taken early in pregnancy, problems in the fetus did not occur. Women who are not breast-feeding may begin to take oral contraceptives two weeks after having a baby.


Oral contraceptives pass into the breast milk and can change the content or lower the amount of breast milk. Also, they may shorten a woman's ability to breast-feed by about 1 month, especially when the mother is only partially breast-feeding. Because the amount of hormones is so small in low-dose contraceptives, your doctor may allow you to begin using an oral contraceptive after you have been breast-feeding for a while. However, it may be necessary for you to use another method of birth control or to stop breast-feeding while taking oral contraceptives.

Other medicines

Although certain medicines should not be used together at all, in other cases two different medicines may be used together even if an interaction might occur. In these cases, your doctor may want to change the dose, or other precautions may be necessary. Tell your healthcare professional if you are taking any other prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter [OTC]) medicine.

Other interactions

Certain medicines should not be used at or around the time of eating food or eating certain types of food since interactions may occur. Using alcohol or tobacco with certain medicines may also cause interactions to occur. Discuss with your healthcare professional the use of your medicine with food, alcohol, or tobacco.

Other medical problems

The presence of other medical problems may affect the use of medicines in this class. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially:

Proper Use of This Medicine:

To make using oral contraceptives as safe and reliable as possible, you should understand how and when to take them and what effects may be expected.

A paper with information for the patient will be given to you with your filled prescription, and will provide many details concerning the use of oral contraceptives. Read this paper carefully and ask your health care professional if you need additional information or explanation.

Take this medicine with food to help prevent nausea that might occur during the first few weeks. Nausea usually disappears with continued use or if the medicine is taken at bedtime.

When you begin to use oral contraceptives, your body will require at least 7 days to adjust before a pregnancy will be prevented. You will need to use an additional birth control method for at least 7 days. Some doctors recommend using an additional method of birth control for the first cycle (or 3 weeks) to ensure full protection. Follow the advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

Try to take the doses no more than 24 hours apart to reduce the possibility of side effects and to prevent pregnancy. Since one of the most important factors in the proper use of oral contraceptives is taking every dose exactly on schedule, you should never let your tablet supply run out. When possible, try to keep an extra month's supply of tablets on hand and replace it monthly.

It is very important that you keep the tablets in their original container and take the tablets in the same order that they appear in the container. The containers help you keep track of which tablets to take next. Different colored tablets in the same package contain different amounts of hormones or are placebos (tablets that do not contain hormones). The effectiveness of the medicine is reduced if the tablets are taken out of order.

If you are taking one of the brand name products, Estrostep Fe or Loestrin Fe, each of the last seven tablets that you will take on Days 21 through 28 of your cycle contains iron. These tablets are also a different color from the other tablets in your package. They help to replace some of the iron you lose when you have a menstrual period.


The dose medicines in this class will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of these medicines. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.

The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.

Missed dose

Call your doctor or pharmacist for instructions.

Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label if you miss a dose of this medicine. The following information includes only some of the ways to handle missed doses. Your health care professional may want you to stop taking the medicine and use other birth control methods for the rest of the month until you have your menstrual period. Then your health care professional can tell you how to begin taking your medicine again.

For monophasic, biphasic, triphasic, or quadriphasic cycles:

If you miss any of the last seven (inactive) tablets of a twenty-eight–day cycle, there is no danger of pregnancy. However, the first tablet (active) of the next month's cycle must be taken on the regularly scheduled day, in spite of any missed doses, if pregnancy is to be avoided. The active and inactive tablets are colored differently for your convenience.


Keep out of the reach of children.

Store the medicine in a closed container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Keep from freezing.

Do not keep outdated medicine or medicine no longer needed.

Precautions While Using This Medicine:

It is very important that your doctor check your progress at regular visits to make sure this medicine does not cause unwanted effects. These visits will usually be every 6 to 12 months, but some doctors require them more often.

Tell the medical doctor or dentist in charge that you are taking this medicine before any kind of surgery (including dental surgery) or emergency treatment. Your doctor will decide whether you should continue taking this medicine.

The following medicines may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. You should use an additional method of birth control during each cycle in which any of the following medicines are used:

Check with your doctor if you have any questions about this.

Vaginal bleeding of various amounts may occur between your regular menstrual periods during the first 3 months of use. This is sometimes called spotting when slight, or breakthrough bleeding when heavier. If this should occur:

Missed menstrual periods may occur:

Check with your doctor if you miss any menstrual periods so that the cause may be determined.

In some patients using estrogen-containing oral contraceptives, tenderness, swelling, or bleeding of the gums may occur. Brushing and flossing your teeth carefully and regularly and massaging your gums may help prevent this. See your dentist regularly to have your teeth cleaned. Check with your medical doctor or dentist if you have any questions about how to take care of your teeth and gums, or if you notice any tenderness, swelling, or bleeding of your gums. Also, it has been shown that estrogen-containing oral contraceptives may cause a healing problem called dry socket after a tooth has been removed. If you are going to have a tooth removed, tell your dentist or oral surgeon that you are taking oral contraceptives.

Some people who take oral contraceptives may become more sensitive to sunlight than they are normally. When you begin taking this medicine, avoid too much sun and do not use a sunlamp until you see how you react to the sun, especially if you tend to burn easily. If you have a severe reaction, check with your doctor. Some people may develop brown, blotchy spots on exposed areas. These spots usually disappear gradually when the medicine is stopped.

If you suspect that you may have become pregnant, stop taking this medicine immediately and check with your doctor

If you are scheduled for any laboratory tests, tell your doctor that you are taking birth control pills

Check with your doctor before refilling an old prescription, especially after a pregnancy. You will need another physical examination and your doctor may change your prescription.

Side Effects of This Medicine:

Healthy women who do not smoke cigarettes have almost no chance of having a severe side effect from taking oral contraceptives. For most women, more problems occur because of pregnancy than will occur from taking oral contraceptives. But for some women who have special health problems, oral contraceptives can cause some unwanted effects. Some of these unwanted effects include benign (not cancerous) liver tumors, liver cancer, or blood clots or related problems, such as a stroke. Although these effects are very rare, they can be serious enough to cause death. You may want to discuss these effects with your doctor.

Smoking cigarettes during the use of oral contraceptives has been found to greatly increase the chances of these serious side effects occurring. To reduce the risk of serious side effects, do not smoke cigarettes while you are taking oral contraceptives. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects from oral contraceptive use. The risk increases with age and with heavy smoking (15 or more cigarettes per day) and is quite marked in women over 35 years of age.

Along with its needed effects, a medicine may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.

The following side effects may be caused by blood clots. Get emergency help immediately if any of the following side effects occur:

Abdominal or stomach pain (sudden, severe, or continuing)
coughing up blood
headache (severe or sudden)
loss of coordination (sudden)
loss of vision or change in vision (sudden)
pains in chest, groin, or leg (especially in calf of leg)
shortness of breath (sudden or unexplained)
slurring of speech (sudden)
weakness, numbness, or pain in arm or leg (unexplained)

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

More common
(usually less common after the first 3 months of oral contraceptive use)
Changes in the uterine bleeding pattern at menses or between menses, such as decreased bleeding at menses, breakthrough bleeding or spotting between periods, prolonged bleeding at menses, complete stopping of menstrual bleeding that occurs over several months in a row, or stopping of menstrual bleeding that only occurs sometimes
Less common
Headaches or migraines (although headaches may lessen in many users, in others, they may increase in number or become worse)
increased blood pressure
vaginal infection with vaginal itching or irritation, or thick, white, or curd-like discharge
For women with diabetes mellitus
Mild increase of blood sugar Faintness, nausea, pale skin, or sweating
Mental depression
swelling, pain, or tenderness in upper abdominal area
For women who smoke tobacco
Pains in stomach, side, or abdomen
yellow eyes or skin
For women with a history of breast disease
Lumps in breast

Some side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. Also, your health care professional may be able to tell you about ways to prevent or reduce some of these side effects. Check with your health care professional if any of the following side effects continue or are bothersome or if you have any questions about them:

More common
Abdominal cramping or bloating
acne (usually less common after first 3 months and may improve if acne already exists)
breast pain, tenderness, or swelling
swelling of ankles and feet
unusual tiredness or weakness
Less common
Brown, blotchy spots on exposed skin
gain or loss of body or facial hair
increased or decreased interest in sexual intercourse
increased sensitivity of skin to sunlight
weight gain or loss

Other side effects not listed may also occur in some patients. If you notice any other effects, check with your healthcare professional.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Last Updated: 10/12/2016

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