Progestin-Only Pills: Working, Uses, Advantages & Disadvantages

progestin-only pills (mini Pills)

Introduction

The progestin-only pill, also known as the minipill, is an oral contraceptive made with progestin. Progestin is a man-made form of the hormone progesterone that is made by our bodies. It works by preventing the release of eggs from the ovaries and changing the cervical mucus and lining of the uterus. Therefore, helping in preventing pregnancy.

Moreover, unlike regular birth control pills or combination pills, minipills do not have estrogen. This causes the pill to have comparatively fewer side effects making it a better option for many women.

Working Of Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

The progestin-only pill, also called norethindrone, works in the following way:

Thickens the cervical mucus while thinning the lining of the uterus, making it harder for the sperm and egg to meet
Prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs.

However, it is important to note that the pill does not completely suppress your ovulation.

Who Should Take The Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills?

There could be several reasons why your doctor may prescribe minipills for you. One of the main reasons would be that you cannot consume estrogen. Adding on to this, minipills are usually prescribed when you:

  • Are breastfeeding, because the estrogen in combination with birth control pills is said to inhibit breast milk production
  • Have concerns about the side effects of the combination pill
  • Have either a history of blood clots or an increased risk of the same
  • Are 35 or over, and have a habit of smoking
  • Have dermatitis, since minipills might help in treating the skin condition

However, there are many reasons why the mini pill should be avoided. The mini pill isn’t the right option for you if you have:

  • Any history of breast cancer
  • Some liver disease
  • Had weight loss surgery
  • Uterine bleeding for unknown reasons
  • Been taking drugs for HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, or seizures
  • Jaundice
  • Severe Cirrhosis

Additionally, while many people believe there may be cancer risks associated with taking minipills, these risks are not well studied. Also, remember that these pills do not help prevent the spread of STIs. It is recommended to use a condom to protect yourself from getting any STDs.

Using Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

Minipills come in a pack of 28. When you first get these pills, start your dosage within 5 days of the starting date of your period. Moreover, use a condom every time you have sex in the first week of starting the minipill dosage.

Consuming them is quite similar to consuming the dosage of combination birth control pills. However, one difference between the dosage of both the pills is that minipills do not have a row of inactive or placebo pills. For this pill to work, you have to take it every day, at the same time. Since your body clears progestin faster than the hormones present in the combination pills, it is very important to be on time with these pills.

Additionally, if you take the mini pill after more than 3 hours of your usual time, it might not work very effectively to prevent pregnancy. In such cases, it is recommended to use other forms of contraception for the next two days or to abstain from sex completely, mainly to prevent pregnancy.

Moreover, when you forget to take a pill, take it as soon as you remember. You may have to take two pills in one day to cover up.

In such cases, take the two pills a few hours apart. And then continue the dosage the way it had been going.

Side Effects Of Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

Like all oral contraceptives, progestin-only birth control pills have side effects too. These side effects may include but are not restricted to:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Weight change
  • Acne
  • Increased hair growth
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Lower sex drive
  • Skipped periods
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Thinning hair

Moreover, if you get pregnant while on the pill, there is an increased chance of an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. In such cases, the pregnancy cannot be continued and the fetus needs to be surgically removed.

Precautions For Taking The Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

Since the progestin-only pill is a prescription pill, it will be a requirement for you to meet with a healthcare provider before starting your dosage. A few precautions you can keep in mind when meeting the doctor and otherwise are:

  • Inform your doctor about any allergies from medications, progestin, aspirin, or tartrazine
  • Do not smoke while taking the pill as it increases the chances of heart attacks and strokes
  • Inform your doctor if you are taking any vitamins, prescription or non-prescription medicines
  • If you vomit soon after taking the pill, you may have to use some other form of contraception for the next 48 hours

Lastly, do not take a break between packs. For these pills to work, you have to continue taking them continuously.

Advantages Of Taking Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

Besides having lesser side effects than combination birth control pills, progestin-only birth control pills have multiple other advantages. A few of these advantages are:

  • Has an efficacy rate of 94 per cent
  • Does not act as an interruption during sex
  • Safe to use during lactation
  • Can be used at any age
  • Reduces menstrual flow and cramps
  • May reduce risk of endometrial cancer
  • Allows fertility to return without delay after you stop taking it

Lastly, if taken correctly following proper instructions, the failure rate of this pill is one per cent. This means that only one in a hundred women would get pregnant even after taking the pill perfectly.

Disadvantages Of Taking Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

Progestin-only birth control pills might not be the best option for some women. A few of its disadvantages are:

  • Does not protect against STDs
  • Menstrual abnormalities will occur
  • You have to be extremely vigilant and precise when taking the pill
  • May reduce sex drive
  • Increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots
  • Increased risk of breast cancer
  • 30 per cent increased risk of ovarian cysts
  • Only available on prescription
  • Not suitable for women on liver-enzyme producing medication
  • Less effective than the combined pill

Every form of contraception will have some disadvantages. Ultimately, it boils down to choosing what your priority is, and deciding the form of contraception accordingly.

When Should You Visit The Doctor While On The Pill?

While taking the minipill is relatively harmless, some occasions may require you to visit the doctor. A few conditions that call for a visit to the doctor are:

  • Bleeding between periods after the first few months
  • Leg pain or if your leg feels hot to touch
  • Swelling in legs
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe headaches
  • Accidental overdose
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Unexplained fever or chills
  • When periods seem severe and unusual
  • Pregnancy while on the pill

Facing a few mild symptoms is normal. However, if the side effects seem too intense, you should try visiting the doctor soon.

Where Can You Buy The Progestin-Only Pill?

Since the progestin-only pill is a prescription drug, you will not find it in local drugstores. You can get the medication from these places:

  • Contraception clinics
  • Sexual health clinics
  • Some GP surgeries
  • Few young people’s services

Moreover, if you’re under 16, you can get contraception for free from the above places.

Bonus Read: You can even buy progestin-only pills such as Plan B One-Step from our page!

Conclusion

Progestin-only pills are a reliable option to prevent pregnancy as long as you’re being careful with their dosage. However, in some rare cases, women can become pregnant even after taking oral contraceptives. If it has been more than 45 days since your last period, even while on the pill, it is advisable to take a pregnancy test.

Additionally, it is important to tell the laboratory personnel that you are on the minipill before getting any laboratory tests. This is because the medication can interfere with the lab test results.

Lastly, if you believe that you’re having a reaction to the pill, or that it is not suiting you, don’t worry! There are plenty of contraceptive options, and talking to your doctor will help you in deciding what is best for you.

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