Frequently Asked Questions

What is the pill & how does it work?

  • The contraceptive pill is a tablet containing female hormones that is taken to prevent pregnancy.
  • There are two types of oral contraceptive pills; the combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) and the progestogen-only pill (POP).
  • COCs contain a combination of two hormones, oestrogen and a progestogen while POPs contain just one hormone, a progestogen.
  • There are a number of different types of COCs available, which contain different amounts of oestrogen and different types of progestogen depending on the pill. There are two types of POPS which contain different progestogens.
  • COCs protect against pregnancy by preventing ovulation (the release of an egg each month).1-4
  • POPs protect against pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix and stopping ovulation.5,6

How effective is the pill?

  • The pill is very effective when taken correctly, which is why so many millions of women around the world rely on it. Correct use means not missing any pills, re-starting the pill on time after the pill-free week and taking extra contraceptive precautions when pills are missed.
  • COCs can be up to 99% effective when taken correctly and consistently. If you forget to take your COC pill within 12 hours of the time you should take it, it may not be effective.1-4
  • POPs can be up to 99% effective when taken at the same time every day. If you forget to take your POP pill within 12 hours of the time you should take it  it may not be effective.5-6
  • If you forget to take your pill, follow this step by step guidance to ensure you remain protected against unintended pregnancy.

How do I take the pill?

  • Your doctor will explain to you how to take your pill correctly when you get your prescription.
  • If your pill pack contains 21 pills, take one every day at the same time for three weeks. At the end of those three weeks, you take a pill-free break for one week. During those seven days, you’ll have your withdrawal bleed (similar to your period) and you will be protected against pregnancy. After the one week break, you can start your next pack.1-4
  • If your pill pack contains 28 pills, take one at the same time every day as directed by your doctor. With the 28 day pills you take one tablet every day for 28 days and then start a new pack with no break.5-6

What do I do if I have missed a pill?

You may feel worried and wonder what to do if you missed a pill. It’s true that you may not be fully protected and are at risk of pregnancy, but carefully read and follow this step-by-step missed pill guidance. If you find yourself missing a pill frequently, it may help to speak with your doctor about this.

Check out the Hints and Tips page for some helpful tricks to remember your pill everyday!

Try downloading the Pill Reminder App to help remind you!

Missed Pill Guidance button

What factors prevent the pill from working properly?

  • If you have been sick within 3-4 hours after taking your pill or you have severe diarrhoea, your body may not get its usual dose of hormones from that pill.
  • After vomiting or diarrhoea, take another pill as soon as possible.
  • If possible take it within 12 hours of when you normally take your pill.
  • If that is not possible or 12 hours or more have passed, you should follow the missed pill guidance.1-6

What if I am on medication?

  • Before you take any other medicines, including those available to buy without a prescription, talk to your doctor or pharmacist & they will advise you on what medicines may interfere with the pill.

Are there any side effects associated with the pill?

  • Most women who take the pill do not develop any side-effects.
  • Some women may experience headache, nausea, menstrual disorders, such as breast tenderness or breakthrough bleeding.¹-³ These usually go away within days or weeks of starting the pill. If your side effects continue, there are many different types of contraceptive pills or other forms of contraception you can try which may suit you better.
  • Consult your doctor if you experience any persistent side effects while taking the pill.

Does the pill cause weight gain?

  • In most women, it is unlikely that the pill will cause weight gain. However, the pill may make you retain water, creating the appearance of weight gain.
  • Oral contraceptive pills also contain progesterone which can sometimes cause an increase in appetite. This isn’t permanent, and will usually go away once your body has adjusted to the new hormones.
  • It is recommended to maintain a healthy balanced diet while taking oral contraceptive pills.

Does the pill cause cancer?

  • The pill does increase the risk of some cancers, but lowers the risk of others. Any increase in cancer risk from taking the pill seems to go back to normal once you stop taking it.7
  • When taking the combined oral contraceptive pill, the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer is reduced.1-4The combined contraceptive pill also protects you against cancer of the womb and bowel.7
  • There has been some research indicating that taking the pill increases the risk of cancer of the cervix. This is confusing because women who take oral contraceptives are more likely to be sexually active so they are more at risk of picking up human papilloma viruses (HPV), which is a known risk factor for cervical cancer.7
  • Studies have found that there is a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in women currently using either combined oral contraceptives or the progestogen only pill, however the risk gradually disappears after cessation.1-6

Will I have trouble getting pregnant after using the pill?

  • After you stop taking the pill, you may have only slight delay before you ovulate again.
  • Your period should follow about four to six weeks after you take your last pill. Once ovulation resumes, you can become pregnant.
  • The hormones in the pill don’t linger in your system. Most women have no more than a four-week delay in menses after they stop using the pill.
  • If your periods were infrequent before you started taking the pill, they will likely be that way again after you stop the pill.

Does the pill protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

  • Oral contraceptive pills do not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).1-6
  • It is important to use condoms correctly to protect yourself from most STIs, and to get tested for STIs regularly if you are sexually active with new partners. Find out more information on our Sexual Health page, or on our Further Information page.
  • For more information on STIs or where to get tested, you can get advice from your doctor, family planning clinic, or an STI clinic.

Are there tips for taking the pill?

  • Since you need to take your pill every day at the same time for it to be effective, it’s helpful to link it with an activity you automatically do in the morning, like brushing your teeth, washing your face or having breakfast.
  • If you start by taking your pill in the morning time, it gives you more time to remember to take it during the day if you forget first thing in the morning.
  • Use a pill reminder App or set a repeat alarm on your mobile phone to go off at the same time every day.

What are the advantages of the pill?

  • It is a very effective contraceptive method
  • It does not interfere with sex
  • It is reversible
  • Autonomy and control over your periods
  • Periods are regular and may be less painful and lighter1-4
  • It relieves premenstrual tension for some women

Where can I find more information on the pill?

  • For more information on your oral contraception please refer to the Patient Information Leaflet contained inside of your pill pack.
  • Alternatively, speak to your local doctor or pharmacist for advice on oral contraception.


1. Elvina SPC
2. Elvinette SPC ®
3. Ovreena SPC ®
4. Violite SPC ®
5. Azalia SPC ®
6. Cerazette SPC ®
All available at
7. – Last Accessed 29/8/2019

Information placed on this digital platform is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your healthcare professional. Please consult your doctor or nurse for further information.

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