Over the past year I’ve been experiencing mood swings and hormonal chaos like never before, I’ve been to the GP a number of times with disappointing results. Once again the UK health system fails to recognise any of the symptoms of PCOS and the impact it can have on someone’s life – instead it’s talked around, buzz words are bandied around and symptoms are attributed to 101 other things.
The only thing that has been suggested to me is swapped what contraceptive pill I’ve been prescribed.
So I’ve been formally diagnosed with PCOS since I was 16, my mother has it and recognised the signs as I hit puberty so pushed the GP to get it diagnosed with the hope of getting it sorted. After blood tests and an ultrasound it was confirmed and the only thing suggested was putting me on the contraceptive pill to regulate my periods and help my acne (the first pill I went on was Dianette). Across the years I’ve had issue with the numerous pills and have been swapped on and off the different types with varying results, and the most recent one that I was trialled on affected my moods, appetite and skin so quickly and severely I took the decision to stop it immediately and just deal with the irregularity and symptoms that come from PCOS.
This got me thinking about all the various types of contraceptive pills out there that are often used to treat symptoms of PCOS without any real thought or insight into the condition, so here’s an overview of what’s out there at the moment and what you may be on or prescribed by your own GP along your journey with PCOS…
In the UK there are currently around 30 different types of pill, and of course as everyone if different they are likely to have varying results. If you have any questions about all of this then it would be best to speak to your GP or gynaecologist in depth to decide upon the best course of action for you personally.
The pill can be split into two main types: the combined pill (aka ‘the pill’) or the progestogen-only pill (aka ‘the mini pill’).
Combined pills are the most commonly prescribed containing both the hormones oestrogen and a synthetic form of progestogen.
Most combined pills use the same form of oestrogen (ethinylestradiol) but have varying forms of progestogens used and the strength of hormone can differ (low strength or standard strength) also.
These pills tend to come in either 21 or 28 day packs and are available in three different phase-types. Monophasic pills, where all active pills contain the same level of hormones. Biphasic pills, where all active pills contain two different doses of oestrogen and progestogen. And Triphasic pills where all active pills contain three different doses of hormones and the dose changes every seven days.
Okay, so what are the pros and cons of the combined pill?
Pros of using the combined pill:
- Will help make your period regular, lighter and less painful
- Can help with premenstrual symptoms
- Reduces the risk of cancer of the ovary, uterus and colon
- Can improve acne
- May reduce menopausal symptoms
- May reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease.
Cons of using the combined pill:
- Temporary side-effects include headaches, nausea, tenderness of the breasts and mood changes
- The pill may increase your blood pressure
- Spotting and/or breakthrough bleeding is common in the initial stages of use
- The combined pill isn’t normally suitable for those with a history of blood clots, migraine, heart or liver disease.
What are the names of combined pills that I may encounter?
This is the most common form of pill prescribed by GPs and as there are so many different names out there it can be a daunting and intimidating thing. Look out for some of these names as combined pills:
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Progestogen-only pills are often referred to as the mini pill or POP, they contain a hormone similar to natural progesterone created by women.
But what about the pros and cons of the mini pill?
Pros of using progestogen-only pills:
- The POP can be ideal if for whatever reason you cannot take oestrogens (like those found in the combined pill, contraceptive patch or contraceptive vaginal ring)
- Progestogen-only pills can be used at any age but are particular useful if you are over 35 or a smoker
- The mini pill can also help with premenstrual symptoms and painful periods
- Mini pills can be used if you are breastfeeding.
Cons of using progestogen-only pills:
- You may not have regular periods on the progestogen-only pill (not exactly helpful with PCOS irregularity). Periods may be irregular, light, may be more frequent or may stop altogether
- You have to be strict when taking the POP and have to remember to take it at the same time every day
- Temporary side effects can include oily, spotty skin, tender breasts, weight gain, mood swings and headaches.
What are the names of progestogen-only pills that I may encounter?
This is the alternative pill that will be considered by GPs and again there are loads of different names to get your head around. Look out for some of these names as progestogen-only, mini pills:
So there you have it. A rough guide to the contraceptive pills available and how they may (or may not) help you. Don’t forget to talk to your GP about your options and make an informed decision that can potentially help your PCOS symptoms.