Under normal conditions, a woman’s menstrual cycle is usually 28 days long. The first step of the cycle occurs when a follicle-stimulating hormone is sent from the pituitary gland to encourage growth of the ovaries’ follicles. These stimulated follicles release estrogen, which sets off a new series of hormone secretions. The dominant ovarian follicle is then transformed into an ovum. The ovum, or egg, leaves the ovary and heads toward the fallopian tube, where it can be fertilized by sperm. Next, a fertilized egg will travel to the uterus and settle in the endometrium. At this point, estrogen and progesterone hormones make the uterus suitable for an egg to grow.
The birth control pill is designed to disrupt this natural process. The pill contains estrogen and progestin hormones, which function to decrease the release of luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones. As a result, ovarian follicles are restricted from growing, which in turn prevents an egg from developing and leaving the ovary. In essence, the pill’s synthetic hormones convince the ovary that an egg has already been released. As such, the uterus still builds up endometrium (thickening walls). The birth control pill also works by thickening the vaginal mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to reach the fallopian tubes.
Many of the side effects associated with the birth control pill are caused by the estrogen hormone that’s in the pill. These possible side effects include nausea, breast soreness, decreased libido, weight gain and moodiness. While many of these symptoms tend to disappear after a few cycles, it may become necessary to switch formulations if the symptoms persist. Some of the more serious side effects include heart attacks, liver tumors and blood clots. However, there are also some positive side effects linked to the birth control pill. These include less painful cramps, lighter menstruation and even better skin. A 2008 study published by the leading medical journal “The Lancet” even found that taking the pill can reduce the risk of contracting ovarian cancer.
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