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Day 13 of Our 31 Day Series of How Medicine Got It Wrong

The Pill, Its Thrill, and the Medical Drill


Oral contraceptives, also known as birth control pills, were first introduced in the 1960s as a method of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Since then, they have become one of the most popular forms of birth control worldwide.


The development of oral contraceptives was made possible by advances in the understanding of the menstrual cycle and the hormones that regulate it. The first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the FDA in 1960 and contained a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin hormones.


Oral contraceptives work by preventing ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovary. They also thicken cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg, and thin the lining of the uterus, making it less receptive to a fertilized egg.


In addition to their primary use as a contraceptive, oral contraceptives have other medical benefits. They can be used to regulate menstrual cycles, treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and manage hormonal acne.


However, there are some contraindications to using oral contraceptives. Women who smoke, especially those over 35, are at an increased risk of cardiovascular problems when taking hormonal birth control. Women with a history of blood clots, stroke, liver disease, breast cancer, or uncontrolled high blood pressure should also avoid oral contraceptives.

Long-term use of oral contraceptives has been associated with some health risks. Women who take hormonal birth control may have an increased risk of breast cancer, although the risk appears to be small and may disappear after discontinuing use. There is also a slightly increased risk of cervical cancer in women who use oral contraceptives for more than five years.


Other potential side effects of oral contraceptives include weight gain, mood changes, headaches, and decreased libido. However, many women find that the benefits of oral contraceptives outweigh the risks and side effects.


In summary, oral contraceptives have a rich history and continue to be a popular form of birth control today. While they have medical benefits beyond contraception, they also carry some health risks and contraindications that should be taken into consideration. Women should discuss their options with a healthcare provider to determine the best form of birth control for their individual needs.


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