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Birth Control: Hormonal Contraceptives

Hormonal birth control comes in a variety of pills and other types of devices that use the hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy.

Hormonal contraceptives offer highly effective pregnancy prevention by using the hormones estrogen and progestin.  They work by preventing ovulation and decreasing sperm mobility.  When choosing a birth control method, it is important to consider effectiveness, health risks, if they protect against STDs, and comfort with using the method.

Hormonal contraceptives require a prescription and come in the form of oral contraceptives, the patch, the ring, shots and an implant.  Oral contraceptives come in both an estrogen-progestin combination and as progestin only, must be taken daily and should be taken at the same time each day.  This keeps the concentration of hormones constant and provides consistent protection.  Progestin-only pills, or “mini-pills”, are useful for women who are breastfeeding or who cannot take estrogen.  

The patch is an adhesive bandage which releases estrogen and progestin into the system over time.  It needs to be replaced each week for three weeks a month.  Another device is the ring, which releases estrogen and progestin, and is inserted into the vagina once a month.  There are also some long acting methods for those who have health concerns related to estrogen, or who are concerned about remembering daily or weekly routines.  Progestin shots provide 12 weeks of prevention and are administered by a health professional.  Finally, there are progestin implants, which are inserted under the skin by a doctor.  These release progestin over time and provide up to 3 years of protection.

All hormonal contraceptives provide a 92-99% success rate when used as directed and when stopped, fertility usually returns to normal in 1-2 months.  As with all contraceptives, there are pros and cons to consider.  No one birth control method is perfect and none of these protect against STDs and they all come with certain risk factors.  Talk to your doctor and partner when deciding which is best for you.

Isabel Blumberg, MD

This video features Isabel Blumberg, MD. Dr. Blumberg is a clinical instructor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science.

Duration: 4:09. Last Updated On: Nov. 8, 2017, 6:14 p.m.
Reviewed by: Suzanne Friedman, MD, Preeti Parikh, MD, . Review date: June 30, 2017
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