Hormonal Methods

Hormonal Methods add chemicals similar to hormones to your body. These added hormones stop egg development and weaken sperm to prevent fertilization. The hormones change your cervical mucus and the lining of your uterus, slow sperm, and reduce ability of fertilized egg to implant into your uterine wall. Hormones may cause high blood pressure, mood changes or headaches. They may increase chance of breast cancer. They decrease chance of ovarian cancer. They are not recommended if you had breast cancer, stroke or severe heart disease. With both estrogen and progestin, menstrual cramps and bleeding usually become lighter. Combination hormones may cause nausea and breast tenderness. Not recommended for smokers over 35 years old, women who have high blood pressure, blood clots, migraine headaches or liver disease. Not recommended for women at high risk for heart attack or stroke. Some antibiotics and anti-epilepsy drugs make the hormones less effective. With progestin only, smokers can use these methods. Progestin affects menstruation differently in everyone. You might have no bleeding, light irregular bleeding, or very heavy bleeding. May cause lowered sex drive, increased appetite or weight gain; these are more common with The Shot.

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Emergency Contraception

What is it? A pill or combination of pills you take after sex to prevent pregnancy. It gives you a short burst of a high dose of a hormone-like drug that affects your body’s ability to get pregnant. Various formulas exist.

Use: Use after unprotected sex

Hormone-like substances that affect ovulation, movement of sperm, or other conditions necessary for pregnancy to develop.

Several options exist. You may buy specially labeled pills or use a large dose of specific brands of regular birth control pills.

How to use: Take as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

Health Impacts: Usually safe for women who can’t use other hormone methods due to health risks. Your next menstrual period should begin on time. If not, get a pregnancy test.

Note: Won’t stop an existing pregnancy.

Access: One type is easy to buy in a pharmacy if you are 17 or older; under 17 need a prescription. Others require a prescription for all ages. Many clinics will call in a prescription or give you one ahead of time. You can buy it to keep on hand “just in case.” Also available online.

Effectiveness: Depends on the type you take and how soon you take it.

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The Patch

What is it? A bandage-like patch that sticks to your skin. Hormones are absorbed through your skin; releases estrogen and progestin.

Use: Change it weekly.

How to use: Apply one Patch per week for three weeks. No Patch on the fourth week.

Health Impacts: May cause skin irritation. Possible higher risk of heart attack and stroke than with other hormonal methods.

Note: Less effective if you weigh over 198 pounds.

Access: Prescription needed.

Effectiveness: 91% – 99.7%

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The Shot

What is it? A long-acting injection of synthetic progestin hormone.

Use: Get a shot every 3 months.

Health Impacts: More chance of weight gain than with other methods. May cause loss of bone density and risk of osteoporosis. May increase chance of HIV transmission. Not recommended if you have high blood pressure or are high risk for heart attack or stroke.

Note: It is not reversible. Once a woman gets the shot, the hormone is in her system for at least three months. It may take a long time to get pregnant after last shot.

Access: Clinic visit needed every 3 months.

Effectiveness: 94% – 99.8%

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The Pill

What is it? A pill containing synthetic hormones you take orally every day at about the same time. Regular birth control pills release both estrogen and progestin into your body. Mini-pills release only progestin.

Use: Daily.

Note: There are many different brands. If you have bad reactions to one, work with your health care provider to find another that works well.

Smokers or women with high blood pressure can use the Mini-Pill (progestin only pill) but it is a little less effective and needs to be taken at exactly the same time daily.

Health Impacts: Your “period” can occur monthly, every 3 months, or not at all, depending on when you stop taking hormone pills.

Access: Prescription needed.

Effectiveness: 91% – 99.7%

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Vaginal Ring

What is it? A clear, soft, flexible 2-inch circle worn in vagina. Your body absorbs hormones from the Ring through your vaginal wall. Releases estrogen and progestin.

Use: Monthly

How to use: Fold and slide into your vagina. Leave in for 3 weeks then remove. Your “period” can occur monthly, every 3 months, or not at all, depending on how you soon you insert the next Ring.

Health Impacts: May cause vaginal irritation.

Note: One size fits all. Neither partner usually feels the Ring.

Access: Prescription needed.

Effectiveness: 91% – 99.7%