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Birth Control Health Center

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New Low-Dose Oral Contraceptive Just as Good as Higher Dose

WebMD Health News

Nov. 24, 1999 (Cleveland) -- Newer, low-dose oral contraceptive (OC) pills offer similar contraception but possibly less chance of side effects than older OC pills that contain up to 75% more estrogen, according to a study in the supplement to the November issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Howard Reisman, MD, and his colleagues studied this lower-dose OC, known as Alesse or Loette, in healthy women with regular menstrual cycles and found that it was as effective in controlling menstrual cycles as older triphasic oral contraceptives (Ortho-Novum 7/7/7 or TriNovum), which contain higher doses of estrogen. According to Reisman, the less estrogen in an OC pill, the less chance of side effects such as weight gain and breast tenderness, which cause many women to discontinue this form of birth control therapy.

A big concern with lower-dose OC pills is also the breakthrough bleeding that can occur. Breakthrough bleeding can consist of anything from light spotting that doesn't need sanitary protection to heavy bleeding, which is similar to a normal menstrual flow. According to this study, the bleeding with this low-dose pill was the same as with the higher-dose triphasic pill.

"With this new low-dose formulation, we are not sacrificing anything. The contraceptive efficacy is the same as for the higher doses, the bleeding patterns are similar, and the cycle control is similar, but there's a chance you'll have fewer side effects. This is important because many women stop taking OCs because of the side effects such as weight gain and breast tenderness, which are typically caused by higher estrogen levels," Reisman tells WebMD. Reisman is a clinical investigator and in private practice in Roswell, Ga.

Vital Information:

  • New, low-dose oral contraceptive pills are just as effective as older pills, known as triphasics, but have fewer side effects.
  • Triphasic oral contraceptives contain 75% more estrogen than the new pills, and estrogen is associated with breast tenderness and weight gain.
  • Breakthrough bleeding occurs at similar rates in women on the new and old contraceptive pills.

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