The pill

The pill

The contraceptive pill contains hormones that stop you from getting pregnant. They do this by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) and by thickening cervical mucus which makes it harder for sperm to reach the egg.

There are two main types of pill.

The combined pill which contains a combination of the female hormones oestrogen and progestogen.

The progestogen only pill which contains progestogen only. This is sometimes also called the POP or mini pill.

How effective is the pill?

How effective is the pill?

Both types of pill are 99% effective when used perfectly. However “typical use” puts the pill at about 91% effective (approximately 1 in 11 women taking the pill become pregnant each year). This “typical use” reflects real life where pills can easily be missed/forgotten.

The way in which the two pills are used are slightly different.

The combined pill is licensed to be taken every day for 21 days and then not taken for 7 days. During this 7 day break you will usually have a period-like bleed. However it is possible to miss out a bleed every now and then or even take the pill continuously, you can ask about this at your consultation. You should take the combined pill at roughly the same time every day. Certain types of medication or herbal remedies such as St John’s Wort (antibiotics are no longer thought to interfere with the pill) being sick or having diarrhoea can reduce the effectiveness of the combined pill.

The progestogen only pill must be taken every day with no break. It should be taken at about the same time every day. If you take it later than 12 hours, or 3 hours for the older POPs, there is a danger that it will not work and you may become pregnant.

Who can use the pill?

Who can use the pill?

The combined pill is not suitable for women over 35 who smoke or for women who have certain medical conditions such as thrombosis, stroke, blood clot, heart disease, breast cancer or diabetes. Some women can also be allergic to oestrogen.

The progestogen only pill is not suitable for women with certain medical conditions such as liver disease or breast cancer. However there are generally very few signs or reasons why this type of pill would not work for you.

The doctor or nurse at your Devon Sexual Health clinic will be talk to you about your medical history and general health to help you identify the best type of contraceptive pill for you.

Are there any side effects to the pill?

Are there any side effects to the pill?

Serious side effects of the contraceptive pill are rare.

The combined pill may cause temporary side effects such as headaches, feeling sick, sore breasts and mood swings. Longer term, the combined pill can make your bleeds more regular, lighter and less painful. It can also reduce the symptoms of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) and acne. Negative longer term side effects can be higher blood pressure and there has been some research that links the combined pill to an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer.

The progestogen only pill may cause temporary side-effects such as acne, sore breasts, sickness, migraines, mood swings. It can also cause ovarian cysts. It can affect your bleeding pattern making the bleeding lighter or more irregular and it may stop you bleeding altogether.

If side-effects continue for more than 3 months, contact your nearest Devon Sexual Health clinic and we can advise you about different contraceptive pills or alternative forms of contraception.

Combined pill pros & cons

Combined pill pros & cons

  • 99% effective (if taken perfectly).
  • Makes periods lighter, more regular and less painful.
  • Reduces PMS.
  • Can reduce the risk of ovarian, womb and colon cancer.
  • Can reduce acne.
  • Doesn’t protect against STI’s.
  • Temporary side effects such as headaches, nausea, sore breasts and mood swings.
  • Can increase blood pressure.
  • Have to remember to take every day for 21 days.
  • Not suitable for women over 35 who smoke.
  • Can’t use for 6 weeks after birth if breastfeeding.
Progestogen only pill pros & cons

Progestogen only pill pros & cons

  • 99% effective (if taken perfectly).
  • Can make periods lighter.
  • Safe to use when breastfeeding.
  • Works if you can’t take oestrogen.
  • Doesn’t protect against STI’s.
  • Temporary side effects such as headaches, nausea, sore breasts and mood swings.
  • Can cause ovarian cysts.
  • Can cause acne.
Where can I get the pill?

Where can I get the pill?

The contraceptive pill is available free of charge from any Devon Sexual Health Clinic for any women of any age. Book an appointment or attend one of our walk in clinics and we can talk through which type of contraceptive pill will best suit you. All consultations are completely confidential unless we are worried about your safety. You can also get the pill from most GP surgeries.

How can we help you?

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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

How to access our service:

We have now implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Please contact our services to access this triage system. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus please do not attend the clinic. Clear advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus is available at .

Advice from our service:

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception during this pandemic here.

We are currently prioritising these groups for coil and implant (LARC) fits:

  • Those with vulnerabilities including but not limited to those who are: <18, attending abortion and maternity services, homeless, sex workers, victims of sexual assault, people with language barriers, drug and alcohol problems, learning disability, serious mental illness
  • Those aged <30 years

More details on LARC fittings at our service are found here

There is also specific advice on coronavirus available for People Living with HIV here, and for pregnant women here

Self-requested Sexual Health screening by post is available for for under 25s only - more info here

For others with testing requirements please contact the service on 0300 303 3989.

Information is now also available to advise on sexual contact during a time of social distancing here.

Alternative provision:

Please be aware that we may have to cancel, rearrange or shut clinical services in response to changing clinical and staffing pressures created by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - at your local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV postal testing - available to at-risk groups for a small fee -  more info
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info