Facts Young Women Should Know About Oral Contraceptive Pills

Facts Young Women Should Know About Oral Contraceptive Pills


"Doctor, should I take the pill?"


confused woman


This question is asked thousands of times each day by women. Why? Because the search for a sure-fire method of birth control is as old as Adam's fig leaf and Eve's apple. Also, the expanding population is currently one of our most serious problems.

The number of women taking oral contraceptives, or simply "the pill," is a rather closely guarded secret. Some authorities estimate that is well over ten million. If this figure is correct, then approximately 20% of the fifty million fertile women in the United States take the "the pill". Furthermore, statistics reveal that most women who practice oral contraception can be characterized as being white, college-educated, and non-Catholic. At present, the most prescribed oral contraceptives are Ovral, Ovulen-21, and Ortho-Novum. 

Oral contraceptive drugs have gone through an interesting pattern of acceptance. When it first became known that a woman, by taking a single pill each day could, with near certainty, prevent pregnancy, physicians and laity alike agreed it was a monumental breakthrough. It was not long, however, until scientists discovered that continued use of "the pill" by some women resulted in physiological and pathological changes beyond the specific effect of preventing pregnancy. A kind of gloom prevaded the field for a while. As more evidence was gained, though they did have some side effects.

While "the pill" has received widespread publicity in the news media, few people (especially men) have a basic knowledge of its composition, complications, and nutritional effects. Since the concept of "birth control" requires the responsibility of both partners, both men and women must be thoroughly familiar with "the pill".


The complications that result from taking oral contraceptions can be divided into two groups, those that are merely annoying and those that are serious or potentially fatal. Conditions such as nausea, vomiting, emotional changes, facial pigmentation, and slight hair loss will occur with similar frequency in pregnant women and women taking "the pill". On the other hand, headaches are not a common complaint of normal pregnancy, whereas they do occur more often in women taking oral contraceptives. There is some evidence to suggest that those who have migraine or similar vascular headaches may be unable to use this form of contraception.

Oral contraception had been used for nearly eight years before medical science presented conclusive evidence that severe and even fatal complications could result from taking "the pill". Complications are of three major types: hypertension, thromboembolic phenomena (the obstruction of a blood vessel), and diabetes mellitus.

Undoubtedly, the reason these complications were not recognized sooner is that they are relatively uncommon. In women between the ages of twenty and thirty-four, the excessive death rate from thromboembolic phenomena is in the range of 1.5 to 2.2 per 100 thousand personas per year. In women between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four years, the excessive death rate is more than doubled to 3.9 to 4.5 per 100 thousand. Even so, the morbidity and mortality rate accompanying the use of oral contraceptives remain less than 10% of that occurring in pregnancy.

Nausea, vomiting Minor complications Occasional
Emotional changes Common, early Occasional
Facial pigmentation Occasional Common
Bitemporal alopecia Common Common
Headaches Slight, seldom, serious complications Occasional
Hypertension Seldom Seldom
Thromboembolic phenomena Rare Rare
Diabetes mellitus Seldom Seldom



Medical authorities agree that outside of surgical sterilization, "the pill" is the most reliable method of contraception. Properly used it can offer almost 100% protection against pregnancy. However, there are certain side effects and complications from taking "the pill". The decision on whether to take the "the pill", then, is one of balancing risks. Couples who decide to use this method should do so under experienced medical supervision. Remember, successful contraception requires the rational behaviour and responsibility of both parties. So read and study all you can on contraception. You can make the wisest decision if you know all the facts. And, this decision is too important to be based on rumor and hearsay.


Darden, E. "Facts Young Women Should Know About Oral Contraceptive Pills". Especially for Women, Leisure Pressure, 1977, 184-190.


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