Low-dose birth control is a type of hormonal birth control that contains fewer hormones than some older, traditional pills.
For some people, low-dose pills may cause fewer side effects and provide more health benefits than higher dose pills. Some low-dose pills contain both estrogen and progestin, while others only contain progestin.
In this article, you can learn more about the oral types of low-dose contraception. We also cover the risks and side effects of this type of medication.
Most birth control pills contain a combination of estrogen and progestin.
Progestin is a synthetic form of the natural hormone progesterone. Together, the two hormones regulate the menstrual cycle and prevent pregnancy.
Low-dose birth control pills come in two forms. Combination pills use both estrogen and progestin, but provide lower doses of estrogen than traditional pills. Progestin-only pills contain only synthetic progesterone.
Combined low-dose contraception
Combination pills contain 10—35 micrograms (mcg) of estrogen, while higher-dose pills contain 50 mcg or more.
Doctors rarely prescribe high-dose combination pills because the low-dose pills work just as well and cause fewer side effects. Numerous brands and generic forms of combination pills are available.
Some brand names for combination pills include:
- Ortho novelty
People usually take 21 active pills followed by a 7-day break or 7 pills without hormones. They normally get their period during the week without hormones.
Low-dose contraception using progestin only
A pack of progestin-only pills or mini pills contains 28 active pills. It is important to take the pill at the same time each day. When people take mini pills on this schedule, they are just as effective as combination pills.
A doctor may recommend pure progestin pills to people who are breastfeeding or approaching menopause. People who are intolerant to estrogen may also want to use a mini pill.
Approximately 40 percent of people who only take progestins continue to ovulate. This means that these pills affect the body in other ways to prevent pregnancy.
The mini pill is available in both generic and brand-name forms. Some brand names for pure progestin pills include:
Low-dose contraception may be a better option for people who experience unbearable side effects from high doses of estrogen.
Low-dose birth control also offers several health benefits, including:
- a more regular menstrual cycle
- reduced symptoms of endometriosis
- milder symptoms of perimenopause
- reduced risk of some types of cancer, including ovarian cancer
- Ovarian cyst risk
Likelihood of an ectopic pregnancy
The mini pill may also be beneficial for people who are unable to take conventional estrogen-containing pills.
Low-dose combination prevention should be as effective as contraception with higher estrogen levels.
It is important to take birth control pills at the same time each day and not miss a dose. If you don’t take the pills at the same time, it may increase your risk of pregnancy. This risk is higher with mini pills.
Low-dose contraception poses fewer health risks than birth control, which uses high levels of estrogen. This is because high doses of estrogen are more likely to cause side effects.
Estrogen slightly increases the risk of heart problems and can raise blood pressure. Very rarely, it can cause a blood clot called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) to form in a vein, usually in the leg.
The blood clot can come loose and reach other areas of the body, which can result in a life-threatening embolism.
The risk of estrogen-related cardiovascular health problems is higher among people who:
- are over 35 years old
- Family history of blood clots
- were diagnosed with heart disease
- were and there are other risk factors for heart disease such as obesity or high blood pressure
People who use low-dose contraception are less likely than people taking pills with high estrogen levels to have heart problems
Long-term use of hormonal birth control may slightly increase a person’s risk of certain types of cancer, including breast and cervical cancers.
However, some research shows that the risk of cervical cancer decreases in people using contraception after 10 years of use. It is also worth noting that the risk of ovarian cancer is lower among people who have used contraception.
Some other risks of low-dose birth control include:
- insulin resistance
- weight gain
- cholestasis and some other forms of liver disease
The risk of developing these problems depends on many factors, including lifestyle and family medical history. Therefore, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits of oral contraceptives with a doctor.
Side effects are common with all hormonal birth control pills, although some people report fewer side effects with pure progestin pills.
The most common side effects include:
- changes in sleep
- bleeding between periods, especially initial
- painful breasts
- changes in libido
Many people find that the side effects disappear after a few minutes. Months in which the body adapts to the new hormones.
When to change contraceptive methods
Finding the right form of contraception is a trial and error process. Many people find that hormonal contraception reduces the pain of period cramps and regulates the menstrual cycle.
However, it’s common to have to try out several different types or brands of pills before you find one with manageable side effects. Some people find that they cannot tolerate hormonal contraception in any form.
There are many non-hormonal options available, including the copper intrauterine device (IUD), condoms, a diaphragm, and spermicidal lubricants. If people are interested in permanent birth control, they can discuss surgical options with a doctor.
People can also talk to a doctor about changing contraceptive types if the side effects feel unbearable or the risks seem too great.
A change of contraceptive type may be beneficial for people who:
- Side effects persist that do not improve after 2-3 months
- are and have unbearable side effects or impair daily functioning
- living with a disease such as lupus or liver disease, or cardiovascular disease that has the side effects of
- Smoking can make contraception worse while hormonal contraception
- is used, migraine while using contraception, in particular
Numerous safe and effective options can prevent pregnancy. Hormonal contraceptives are approximately 91 percent effective when used typically, which is not perfect. When used perfectly, they are more than 99 percent effective.
People who want to avoid pregnancy should consider adding a backup method of contraception, such as condoms.
The most appropriate method of contraception may vary as a person gets older or experiences changes in their health or hormone levels. Monitoring side effects is particularly important for people using contraception for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.
best to talk to a doctor about all contraceptive options. It is important to be aware of side effects and to raise any questions or concerns.