The pill, or combined pill, is a course of tablets containing two types of hormone, oestrogen and progestogen, which women can take to prevent pregnancy.
You take the pill every day, at the same time, for 21 days, and then have a 7 day break. During this break you will have a bleed, which is similar to having a period. At the end of the 7 day break, you begin a new pack of pills.
How does it work?
The hormones in the pill work in several ways to prevent a woman from getting pregnant; firstly they stop eggs from being released (ovulation), secondly they thicken cervical mucous to prevent sperm from being able to reach an egg, and lastly they thin the lining of the womb so that if an egg was fertilised it would not be able to implant.
How effective is it?
When the pill is taken correctly, which means taking it according to instructions and not taking pills late or missing any, the pill is more than 99 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.
What are the advantages?
Being on the pill does not interrupt sex. Research also shows that taking the combined pill provides some protection against ovarian, womb and colon cancer. Other benefits are lighter periods, reduced period pain and premenstrual symptoms, and some types of pill can help reduce acne too.
What are the downsides?
When you start taking the pill you may experience some temporary side effects, such as breast tenderness, light bleeding and mood changes
There can also be some more serious side effects, such as causing a rise in blood pressure, and slightly increasing the risk of breast and cervical cancer if the pill is taken for a number of years.
You also need to be able to take the pill at approximately the same time every day for it to work properly. If you know this will be difficult to remember then another form of contraception is probably better for you.
Things to bear in mind
The pill is not suitable for everyone, and it is important that the doctor prescribing it to you is aware of your medical history and any other medication you are taking. You are less likely to be prescribed it if you have high blood pressure, are a smoker or are very overweight
Also other medications, such as some kinds of antibiotics, can make it less effective and an additional method of contraception, like condoms, should be used and seek advice from your doctor.
Most importantly, the combined pill does not provide any protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections ike a condom does.
Where can I get it from and how much does it cost?
The combined pill is available free on the NHS. You can only get it on prescription. This can be from your GP, another GP who you have registered with for family planning services, a practice nurse or a family planning or young person's clinic.