Hormonal Contraception Starter Kit

The pill, patch, and ring are commonly known as combined hormonal contraceptives.   They provide small amounts of estrogen and progestin that are designed to stop ovulation, therefore preventing pregnancy.  The pill can also alter cervical mucus, making it more resistant to sperm.

Important Information

  • Hormonal contraception (pill, patch, ring, IUD, and implant) DO NOT protect you from sexually transmitted infections.  Use a condom for best protection.
  • Campus Health Services does not require a pap smear or full physical exam to give you birth control.  But you do need an appointment to start these methods. 
  • There are many brands of combined hormonal contraception on the market.  Your health care provider will help you decide on the best one for you.  Costs can vary, and many insurance plans will cover most of the cost.

Benefits of Hormonal Contraception

  • Prevention of pregnancy
  • Lighter menstrual flow
  • Less cramping with periods
  • Regulate menstrual periods and hormones
  • Reduce the chance of ovarian cysts (usually not serious, but can be painful)
  • Can be prescribed for women with certain gynecological concerns even if they do not need contraception
  • Improvement of acne
  • Reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancers

The Great Ketchup Story

All birth control pills (patch and ring, too) contain both estrogen and a progestin. Birth control pills, patches, and rings are like ketchup. When you go to the grocery store, you may find as many as 10 different brands of ketchup on the shelf.  But all of them are made from three things:  tomatoes, secret spices, and water.  You can think of birth control in similar terms:

Tomatoes:  the estrogen component is the same in all pills, patches, and rings

Secret Spices:  the progestin (progesterone-like component) will vary from brand to brand

Water: the quantity of the hormones in the pill

Just like ketchup, birth control comes in a variety of recipes for a variety of individuals.  If you think of it in these simple terms, it’s easier to understand!  Work with your health care provider to find the best one for you. 

Side Effects

Generally, side effects are mild and temporary. Most will resolve within 1-3 cycles of pill use. If they persist or are truly bothersome, please talk with your health care provider about changing brands.

Side effects can include
  • Irregular bleeding, mid-cycle spotting
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood changes
  • Weight changes
  • Fatigue
  • Mild headaches


While birth control pills have been safely prescribed and used for over 50 years, some risks remain. The most critical of those risks can be summed up as ACHES.

ACHES stands for
A - Abdominal pain (severe, sudden onset)
C - Chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing up blood
H - Headache (severe, unrelenting), numbness, or weakness in arms or legs
E - Eye problems: sudden vision changes, blurring, flashing lights
S - Severe leg pain in calf or thigh

If you experience ANY of these signs while taking hormonal contraception, stop taking it and seek health care assistance immediately. Severe complications related to hormonal contraception use often stem from abnormal blood clotting. Estrogen may cause the body to change the way it forms blood clots.

Additional risk factors include
  • Smoking:  Do not smoke if you take hormonal contraception, especially if you are over age 35.
  • Family history of clotting disorders:  You may need to be tested for these disorders if your family has a history of serious blood clots.
  • Migraine headaches with aura:  There is an increased risk of stroke in women with severe migraines.
  • Obesity:  Being significantly overweight may increase the chance of abnormal blood clotting.
  • High Blood Pressure:  This needs to be treated before you can take hormonal contraception.
  • Diabetes:  Uncontrolled diabetes may present additional risks.
  • High cholesterol:  Hormones can affect cholesterol which can also affect blood clotting.
  • Current or past breast cancer or other hormone related cancers.
  • Unexplained or un-diagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Tell your health care provider if you are taking any of the following medications: 
  • Seizure medications
  • Antifungal medications
  • Antibiotics
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Steroids
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Blood Pressure Medication

Single Ingredient Birth Control: Progestin-Only

Some women cannot tolerate or should not take estrogen. In those cases, progestin-only contraceptives can be used. Mirena IUD, Skyla IUD, the Implant, and the Shot are examples of progestin-only methods.

Women who cannot take estrogen include those with
  • A personal or family history of blood clotting disorders
  • High blood pressure that is not controlled
  • Personal history of stroke
  • Migraine headaches with neurological symptoms or aura
  • Previous medical side effect to estrogen
  • Active liver disease
  • Breast feeding women
  • Other personal preferences
Progestin-only contraceptives work by
  • Preventing ovulation (release of the egg from the ovary)
  • Thickening the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus
  • Thinning out the uterine lining, to help the egg from implanting in the uterus
Risks and benefits are similar to the pill, but progestin-only contraceptives can also cause
  • Irregular bleeding, especially in the first several months
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Mood changes including depression
  • Bone density changes especially in younger women
  • Longer return to fertility when method is stopped
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    Random Birth Control Fact: 95% of unintended pregnancies occur because contraception is used inconsistently. Solution? Find a method that works for you, and use it correctly and consistently.