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Birth Control Health Center

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Birth Control Pill Users Need Better Information

WebMD Health News

Aug. 14, 2000 -- Because they fail to take their birth control pills correctly, nearly 7 million women worldwide have unintended pregnancies each year. In the U.S. alone, seven out of 100 pill users become pregnant annually, according to a new report from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

"That's significant, especially when you know how effective the pill can be," researcher Vera Zlidar tells WebMD. If women used the pill perfectly, only one woman in 1,000 would become pregnant, she says. Zlidar's study, which appears in Population Reports (published by the Johns Hopkins Population Information Program), is the first global review on oral contraceptive use.

Misinformation, or lack of information, about pill taking was cited as the main problem, Zlidar says. "We found that women who knew how the pill worked, about the possibility of side effects ... how to make up for missed pills, or protect themselves when other drugs might reduce their effectiveness ... were better users of the pill.

"Missing pills is absolutely the No. 1 problem," Zlidar tells WebMD. "But when women know what to do when those pills are missed, it makes a difference and can really help curb the pregnancy rate."

Key points in Zlidar's report include:

  • The pill works very well if you take it correctly.
  • Pill users should never go for more than seven days without taking hormone-containing pills (the placebo pills taken for the week of your period in 28-day packs don't count).
  • Take action if pills are missed. It is important to make up missed pills, abstain from intercourse, or use a back-up method of contraception if you do not want to get pregnant.
  • Be sure to start each new pill packet on time. If you start a packet late, use a backup method or abstain from intercourse until you have taken pills for seven days straight.
  • Most common side effects (like breakthrough bleeding or nausea) do not mean anything is wrong. Continue taking a pill each day. Skipping pills can make side effects worse. It may take a few months to adjust to the pills and for side effects to diminish or go away.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, and certain medications can make the pill less effective. Pill users can use a backup method or abstain from intercourse for seven to 14 days after the illness. Women can omit the seven-day hormone-free interval between pill packs while taking antibiotics. They should take another pill if vomiting or diarrhea occurs within two hours after taking a pill.
  • The pill does not prevent sexually transmitted disease.
  • See a health care provider if you experience constant, severe pain in your chest, legs, or abdomen; severe headaches; brief loss of vision; flashing lights in front of your eyes; or yellowing of your eyes or skin.

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