Hormone Levels in Common Birth Control Pills

by on January 8th, 2015
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My girlfriends and I often sound like we’ve been cut straight out of a 1990s commercial. Like the admittedly fictional women you see on TV, we sit around chatting about different birth control options, their side effects, and their efficacy. I’ve listened with interest when I’ve heard about the tremendous differences between varying strengths of birth control pills. While some oral contraceptives contain very large doses of synthetic hormone, others contain only a miniscule dose of progestin.

A woman’s exact birth control requirements will depend upon her medical history, her desired level of protection and her ability to tolerate certain side effects. If you are wondering about the levels of hormones found in common birth control pills, here are some of the most popular oral contraceptives and their typical hormone doses.

1. High-Dose Birth Control Pills

These are the most high-estrogen, and the most apparently effective, contraceptives on the market. One contraceptive, known as Zovia, contains a combination of high-dose ethynodiol and ethinyl estradiol– synthetic estrogens. A similar pill, marketed under the trade name Norinyl, is comprised of the synthetic hormones norethindrone and mestranol.

2. Phasic Birth Control Pills

Phasic birth control pills vary in the level of hormones they put into the body. During some phases of the pill cycle, they provide a large dose. During other times, phasic pills contain little or no hormone. Examples of phasic pills include levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol (Trivora) and norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol (Ortho-Novum 7/7/7). Another phasic option, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, contains the phasic doses of the hormones norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol.

3. Low-Dose Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills classified as “low dose” contain little synthetic estrogen compared to phasic and high-dose pills. Seasonale or Seasonique, a popular low-dose contraceptive, contains levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol– the same hormones found in Trivora, but at a lower dose. The popular birth control pill Yasmin (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol) is also in this category, along with Lo/Ovral (norgestrel and ethinyl estradiol).

4. Very Low-Dose Birth Control Pills

Low-dose birth control pills contain the same hormones found in other oral contraceptives, but at much lower doses. These are marginally less effective than higher-dose products, but still have a very low failure rate. Examples of pills containing very low-dose estrogen include Mircette (desogestrel and ethinyl estradiol), YAZ (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol), Lybrel (levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol) and LoEstrin (norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol).

5. Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills

Also known as the “mini-pill,” progestin-only oral contraceptives contain no estrogen whatsoever. Instead, they contain a very low dose of synthetic progesterone. These are fairly ineffective compared to combination pills, which contain both estrogen and progesterone. They must be taken at the exact same time every day in order to work effectively. Although less effective, these pills may be worthwhile to women who have difficulty tolerating the side effects of combination pills.

Consult your health care provider for help determining an appropriate birth control method for yourself.

Sources Used:

WebMD: Combination Birth Control Methods
WebMd: Progestin-Only Birth Control Methods


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