The benefits of taking the combined pill
Reviewed by our clinical team
The combined pill has been around for over 50 years and to this day remains the most popular form of prescribed contraception for women in the UK. It’s safe, simple and, when taken correctly, is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
But as well as this protection, the combined pill (brands include Brevinor and Lucette) offers a range of additional health benefits for those living with common conditions such as PCOS, or for managing things like acne and painful periods.
Here we shed light on the benefits of taking the combined pill and how it could help you.
The pill regulates periods
The combined pill is best loved for its ability to control your period. Many women naturally have irregular cycles and therefore find it hard to predict when their next bleed will be.
But when you take the combined pill, you will experience a withdrawal bleed every 28 days, or you can skip this all together by taking the pill back to back (more on this later). This is particularly beneficial for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) who are prone to heavy and irregular periods.
Some women may experience breakthrough bleeding whilst on the combined pill however this should stop after the first six months of use.
It's one of the best contraceptives for period pain
Period pain is extremely common, ranging from mild cramps to intense discomfort in the tummy, back and sometimes legs. It is caused by the muscles in your womb contracting to push out the uterine lining and can be worse for those with health conditions such as endometriosis, Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or fibroids.
Taking the combined contraceptive pill can help to make periods lighter and less painful. This is because it prevents ovulation, stopping the release of an egg and your uterus lining from thickening. You may experience cramping for the first couple of cycles but this normally reduces, or stops completely, as your body adjusts to hormones in the pill.
The combined pill and acne
Clearer skin is one of the most common benefits of the combined pill - and it’s often why many women start taking this method in the first place. So how does it work?
Many people think diet and hygiene are the root cause of acne. And whilst these factors may influence your complexion, acne is actually caused by fluctuating hormones. They impact how much oil (sebum) your skin glands produce and as a result can cause your hair follicles to become blocked. Most of us associate changing hormone levels with puberty - but it can also happen before your period, during pregnancy and throughout life for those with PCOS.
The combined pill can help to balance your hormones and reduce the chances of flare ups. It contains a hormone called oestrogen which is thought to reduce the production of sebum in the skin. It may take a few months to see an improvement (and may get worse initially) but research suggests most women have a clearer complexion when taking this method than those not on contraception.
Co-cyprindiol is most commonly prescribed for acne, often known as Dianette or Clairette. Many women also see results whilst taking Yasmin or Lucette. Find out more about the contraceptive pill and acne to see which is best for you.
It’s one of the best forms of contraceptive for PMS
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, affects as many as three in four women at some point in their lifetime. This could be in the form of mood swings and anxiety, or physical symptoms such as headaches, cramps and tiredness.
A more severe form of PMS is premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) which is caused by heightened sensitivity to fluctuating hormones during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle. The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS but are much harder to cope with and can seriously impact your daily life.
Many women with both PMS and PMDD take the combined pill to ease their symptoms. It’s thought that the pill can help to control changing hormone levels, and by preventing ovulation, you won’t suddenly experience a drop in oestrogen before your period.
It doesn’t however work for everyone, so it’s important to speak to your doctor to find the best option for you. Find out more about PMS and how combined contraception could help.
Taking the pill back to back
Many people think you can’t take the pill continuously, but the truth is that taking the combined pill back to back is perfectly safe and can actually be more beneficial. Plus you have the added bonus of stopping your periods, making it much more convenient for holidays or special occasions.
Normally, you take the combined pill for 21 days before having a seven day break where you’ll experience a ‘withdrawal bleed’. This is not the same as a normal period as the pill prevents you from ovulating and shedding your uterus lining. A withdrawal bleed therefore doesn’t have any medical benefits and isn’t actually necessary - instead you can skip this 7-day break and enjoy not bleeding every month.
You may still experience some spotting or bleeding on occasion but you won’t experience the symptoms of a normal bleed such as headaches, cramps or PMS. Taking the pill back to back is also easier to remember (or you could take an ever day pill like Femodene ED) and can even make your pill more effective.
Birth control reduces the risk of ovarian cancer
Studies have found that hormonal contraception such as the combined pill can significantly reduce the risk of certain cancers, the longer it is taken. These include:
- Ovarian cancer: the risk is reduced by approximately 20% for every 5 years of use
- Endometrial cancer: the risk is reduced by up to 50% with longer use
- Colorectal cancer: the risk is reduced by 18%, a greater reduction in women with recent use
The pill can also reduce the risk of ovarian cysts due to its prevention of ovulation. Cysts in the ovaries are rarely dangerous however can sometimes cause symptoms such as pelvic pain, abdominal discomfort and pain during sex. If they continue to grow, they can also lead to severe pain and ovarian torsion, causing the ovary to twist or rupture.
Disadvantages of the combined pill
Like all medication, some women experience side effects when taking the combined pill. Most commonly this can include headaches, breast tenderness, breakthrough bleeding, nausea, changes to your sex drive and tiredness. These symptoms are normally temporary, lasting a few months as your body adjusts to the new hormone changes. If they don’t go away, you could try taking a different type of combined pill or mini pill.
There are also a small number of risks associated with all combined hormonal methods of contraception including an increase in blood pressure, an increased risk of blood clots and an increased risk of breast and cervical cancer. These risks are very low and will eventually return to normal after you stop taking the pill.
One additional disadvantage of the combined pill is that it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You will therefore need to use a barrier method, such as a condom, to stay STI free.
Many people are concerned about the pill and its impact on weight gain, however there is very little research that backs this up. There is however no evidence that the combined pill will impact your fertility or have any long term side effects. But if you are over 35, smoke, are overweight or take certain medications, then you may be prescribed a different type of pill or form of contraception.
The combined pill is an effective method of contraception that has plenty of perks aside from protecting against pregnancy. And for many women, these benefits outweigh any risks or side effects.
Find out more about how to take the combined pill and whether or not this method of contraception is right for you. Or complete a short confidential consultation, and if you're safe to take it, get up to 12 months of protection.
At LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, you can order contraception online in a few simple steps. No need to see a GP. Once we've made sure it's the right choice for you, we'll deliver it to your door or have it ready for collection from any LloydsPharmacy on the same day.