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Contraceptive pill, combined Content Supplied by NHS Choices

The combined oral contraceptive pill is usually just called the pill.

It contains synthetic (artificial) versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally in their ovaries.

The pill is usually taken to prevent pregnancy, but can also be used to treat:

When taken correctly, the pill is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that less than 1 in 100 women who take the pill will get pregnant in a year.

Who can take it?

Not all women can take the pill. For example, you should not take it if you are pregnant, or if you smoke and are aged 35 or older.

Learn more in special considerations for the combined contraceptive pill.

How the pill works

Getting pregnant happens when a man's sperm fertilises a woman's egg.

The pill prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). It also:

  • thickens the mucus in the neck of the womb, so it is harder for sperm to penetrate the womb and reach an egg
  • thins the lining of the womb, so there is less chance of a fertilised egg implanting into the womb and being able to grow

The pill can be started on any day of your menstrual cycle. There is special guidance if you have just had a baby, a miscarriage, or an abortion.

Learn more in how to take the combined contraceptive pill.

Types of combined pill

Although there are many different brands of pill, there are three main types:

  • Monophasic 21-day pills (the most common type). Each pill has the same amount of hormone in it. One pill is taken each day for 21 days and then no pills are taken for the next seven days. Examples are Microgynon, Brevinor and Cilest.
  • Phasic 21-day pills. Phasic pills contain two or three sections of different coloured pills in a pack. Each section contains a different amount of hormones. One pill is taken each day for 21 days and then no pills are taken for the next seven days. Phasic pills need to be taken in the right order. Examples are Binovum and Logynon.
  • Every Day (ED) pills. There are 21 active pills and 7 inactive (dummy) pills in a pack. The two types of pill look different. One pill is taken each day for 28 days with no break between packets of pills. Every Day pills need to be taken in the right order. Examples are Microgynon ED and Logynon ED.

It's important to take the pills as instructed, as missing pills, or taking them at the same time as certain medicines may make them less effective. Read more about what to do if you miss a pill and the pill - interactions.

Risks and side effects

There are risks associated with using the combined contraceptive pill, such as blood clots, although they are not common. For most women, the benefits of the pill far outweigh the risks.

Side effects are also uncommon, but can include:

  • breast tenderness
  • mood changes
  • headaches

Read more about side effects of the pill and risks associated with the pill.