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Birth control pills are widely used to prevent pregnancy. Wondering if this is the right birth control method for you? Here is a complete guide to birth control pills: which ones are available in Hong Kong, how they work, when to take them, side effects and where to buy them.
Birth control pills, or contraceptive pills, are oral medications for pregnancy prevention. It is a reversible birth control measure with more than 99% effectiveness. In general, birth control pills contain synthetic hormones that alter women’s physiology to avoid pregnancy. In terms of hormonal composition, there are two kinds of oral birth control pills — combined oral contraceptive pills (also called combination pills, COC) and progestogen-only pills (also known as mini pill, POP).
Pregnancy is a complex process that starts when a fertilized ovum implants into the uterine lining successfully. It occurs only when ovulation, fertilization and implantation happen. Oral birth control pills work by introducing female sex hormones to inhibit one or more of these events.
A combined oral contraceptive pill consists of two types of female sex hormones, progestogen and estrogen, a combination of which inhibits ovulation. As there are no ova in the fallopian tube, fertilization, hence pregnancy, cannot take place.
On the other hand, progestogen-only pills contain progestogen as the only hormone. Upon stimulation by a high level of progestogen, cervical mucus is thickened and uterine lining development is suppressed. Thick cervical mucus obstructs sperm transportation, thus keeps sperms away from ova. Simultaneously, a thin uterine lining makes implantation of embryos almost impossible. As a result of both inhibition of fertilization and implantation, birth control is achieved.
Birth control pills are usually available in 21 days or 28 days formulations. The first pill should be taken within the first 5 days of menstruation, followed by 1 tablet daily until the whole pack is finished. For a 21 days pack, you should take a 7-day break before starting the next course. No break is required for the 28 days formula since its last 7 pills are often free of active hormonal ingredients.
Desogestrel mini pill is the only available ‘progestogen-only pill’ in Hong Kong, which is a 28-day pack. Although you can start taking the minipill any time, be reminded that you need to take it within the same 3-hour window every day. If you missed the fixed window over 12 hours, additional contraceptives should be applied for the following 7 days.
In addition to pregnancy prevention, birth control pills can also be used to treat several medical conditions and symptoms, such as:
Birth control pills cope with either the conditions themselves or their symptoms, including irregular periods, pelvic pain and cramps, bone thinning, etc. It is best to consult with a doctor when you are looking for birth control pills for contraception or any of these conditions.
When it comes to birth control pills, there are many myths out there causing hesitation in pill taking. It is crucial to be aware of the actual side effects of birth control pills before taking any of them. The following are the potential risks of birth control pills that may concern you:
Both combination pills and mini pills may bring about common side effects, including:
Most of these signs and symptoms are transient and will go away within a few weeks. Neither of these pills causes infertility.
Apart from the above common side effects, combined oral contraceptive pills also increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension and thromboembolism. Progestogen-only pills on the other hand may lead to persistent menstrual irregularity or even amenorrhoea. As for minipills, they can induce a higher risk of ovarian cysts development.
Despite all these side effects, oral birth control pills are still regarded as a reversible and reliable contraceptive method. Simply consult a general practitioner or pharmacist in the event of any associated medical condition.
Theoretically, as long as you take birth control pills correctly and consistently, they are all effective in contraception (over 99% effectiveness). The choice of birth control pills depends on factors including individual physiological condition, medical history, personal preference, treatment purpose, etc. To identify the most suitable pill for you, please visit a doctor.
Here are some essential considerations when picking a birth control pill:
It is also important to note that birth control pills come in different hormonal dosages. You should visit a doctor or healthcare professional yearly to keep track of your physical condition. Moreover, it is often recommended that first-time users should undergo a healthcare professional consultation and physical examination to assess their suitability for birth control pills.
In Hong Kong, many birth control pills are available over the counter at local pharmacies and clinics without prescription needed. Some of them are also available in online shops:
Another type of contraceptive pill, namely emergency contraceptive pills or morning-after pills, is prescribed by doctors for emergency contraception from unprotected sex and failure of other birth control methods. Emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy by delaying or stopping ovulation. There are two kinds of morning-after pills available in Hong Kong, called Ulipristal acetate and Progestogen emergency contraceptive pills. They are meant to be taken within 120 hours and 72 hours (respectively) after sexual intercourse. Along with a 1–3% failure rate, morning-after pills are associated with common side effects, including headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, breast pain, abdominal pain, irregular vaginal bleeding. Emergency pill is regarded as a backup birth control measure only and is not recommended for regular use. Medical supervision and prescription are mandatory.
Emergency contraceptive pills are prescription-only medications in Hong Kong. They can only be found at the following places:
Refer to our in-depth guide for more information on morning-after pills in Hong Kong. Remember that birth control pills cannot protect you against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so extra precautions like condoms are still necessary for STDs prevention. If you have more questions regarding birth control pills in Hong Kong, please talk to a doctor or pharmacist.
Oral birth control pills prevent pregnancy by introducing female sex hormones to interfere with the processes of ovulation, fertilization or implantation. Without either of the above events, pregnancy cannot take place.
Some women may develop side effects after taking birth control pills, these include headache, dizziness, nausea, weight gain, mood swings, in addition to sore breast and menstrual disturbances. However, most of them go away within 2-3 weeks.
Many brands of birth control pills are available over-the-counter in many local pharmacies, clinics, supermarkets or even online stores. Check our list in the article for more details.
Birth control pills do not cause infertility, you are still fertile and can get pregnant when you stop taking the pills. However, as the number of eggs in ovaries is finite and fixed since birth, the number and quality of eggs decline with age. So the later you stop taking the pills, the fewer chances of conceiving you got.
Birth control pills do not necessarily stop periods. Most pills are designed to regulate female hormonal levels for 21 days, following by 7 days placebo pills or break that is when menstruation occurs. Therefore, whichever pills you took, periods will not be stopped.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Patrick Sai Lock Chan 陳世樂醫生. Dr. Patrick Sai Lock Chan 陳世樂醫生 graduated from the University of Melbourne medical school. After completing residency at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, he returned to Hong Kong to work for Hospital Authority. He worked for more than 10 years in public sector and during this period completed higher training in minimal invasive gynecological surgery. He has further sub-specialized in reproductive medicine at the Monash IVF Centre, Australia. Currently, Dr. Patrick Chan is in private practice providing obstetrics care and fertility treatment.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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