You probably know that the pill has hormones in it to keep you from getting pregnant. Most versions have a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Some have more estrogen in them than others. While fewer hormones sounds like a good thing -- and it mostly is -- you should know the drawbacks when you’re weighing your choices.
Birth control pills (also called oral contraceptives) work well. The catch is that the more estrogen you take, the more likely you are to have side effects such as headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, and rare but potentially fatal blood clots.
When the pill first came out in the 1960s, it had 150 micrograms of estrogen. Side effects were common, and that formula was soon taken off the market. Nowadays, the highest dose available is 50 micrograms of estrogen, but even that is rarely prescribed anymore.
Low-Dose Pill Options
Today, most pills have 35 micrograms or less of estrogen, an amount that's generally called "low dose." These pills are both safe and effective for most women. But some people shouldn't use them, so you should talk with your doctor about your health and habits (such as smoking).
Some examples of low-dose pills are:
Ultra-Low Dose Choices
In recent years there's been a trend toward even lower levels of hormones. "Ultra-low-dose" pills have 20 micrograms of estrogen or less. Some examples are:
- Desogestrel/ethinyl estradiol and ethinyl estradiol (Mircette)
- Drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol (Yaz)
- Levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol (Alesse)
- Norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol (Lo Loestrin Fe)
Ultra-low-dose pills seem to be just as good at preventing pregnancy as higher dose options. They also come with a lower risk of side effects such as headaches and fluid retention.
Ultra-low-dose pills can cause side effects, too. Many women who take them have breakthrough bleeding, which can lead women to stop taking them. Taking your pill at exactly the same time every day may help reduce this problem, but there are no guarantees.
Other Possible Benefits of Birth Control
Birth control pills have benefits besides contraception. They lower your risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer and can help with acne. But it's not clear if ultra-low-dose formulas do as good a job of providing these perks.
Birth control isn't one-size-fits-all, so you should weigh the pros and cons of going extra-low with your doctor.