The combined pill (‘the pill’) is taken every day, usually with a week off once a month (for a period).

It contains two hormones which are very similar to the body's own hormones. 

Easy to start and stop, but can be difficult to remember to take it.



  • Easy to take – one pill a day
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • The pill is good at preventing pregnancy
  • Periods will usually be lighter
  • The pill helps to reduce period pain
  • Control over pattern of periods (regular or no periods)
  • Easy to know and to control when a period will come
  • The pill can help with acne and spots
  • It can help treat symptoms of endometriosis, PCOS and menopause
  • Protection against womb, ovarian and bowel cancer


  • The pill can be difficult to remember
  • No protection against STIs

Possible side effects when first starting:

  • Spotting (bleeding in between periods)
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Sore breasts

Other possible side effects:

  • Changes in mood or sex drive
  • Feeling more hungry
  • Headaches

Extremely rare side effects:

  • Blood clots in the legs or lungs (5-12 in 10,000 users)

Most people don’t put on weight

Sometimes the pill makes people feel more hungry. Studies show that most stay the same weight – 1 in 10 put on weight, and 1 in 10 lose weight while they are on the pill.

Some users notice bigger breasts

You don’t need a break from the pill

It’s safe to take from teenage years up to the age of 50 (for most people).  It’s fine to have been on the pill from a young age, and for many years – there is no need for a break

You don't need to take it at the same time every day 

It's good to have a routine which reminds you to take the pill, but it works fine if a pill is taken once a day, at any time

Not all pills suit everyone

One pill might suit someone really well, and another might cause moodiness, hunger, nausea, or less desire for sex. Everyone is unique, and there are different kinds of pills available, so it’s worth trying a few different brands of combined pill to find one which suits

You don’t need to have a period once a month

It’s safe to miss periods by taking several packets in a row without a break – blood doesn’t build up inside, because the womb lining stays thin. It can help people feel more energetic if they are not losing iron each month in a period. More about periods and irregular bleeding

The pill does not cause infertility

When people come off the pill, fertility returns to normal, meaning that it’s possible to get pregnant within a few days or weeks.  It’s important to know that it’s less easy to get pregnant as you get older – it’s harder to get pregnant over the age of 35.

Lots of people are on the pill for its health benefits.

Many find the pill fantastic for controlling period pain, and to level out moodiness of premenstrual tension. The pill is also used to treat some of the symptoms associated with Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

The pill can also be used to treat menopausal symptoms, like hot flushes and vaginal dryness in people under 50

Mood changes can happen on the pill

e.g. depression, anger, tearfulness. Different brands of pill suit different people, so it's worth trying another if this happens

A clinic visit is needed

to check general health, family history, blood pressure, height and weight.  The pill is not suitable for some people (e.g. heavy smokers, or those whose weight increases the risk of blood clots)

What's right for you?

Good to know

The pill is excellent for controlling periods - they are lighter and less painful on the pill, and you can control when a period comes.

If you want to control periods, you can use two or three pill packets back to back, going straight from one packet on to the next with no break. Taking the pill back to back can also help avoid some pre-menstrual symptoms e.g. bloating, headache, tiredness, period pain, and mood changes.

Some people can't use the pill because of a risk of blood clots (clinics will check medical history, smoking, blood pressure and weight)

How much effort is the pill?

People usually take one pill a day for 21 days, followed by 7 days off. During this pill-free week, there will be a bleed (like a period).  On the 8th day, you start the next packet and repeat the pattern. This means that it’s easy to predict when a period is coming. 
If the pill is taken every day it’s really effective, but it can be difficult to remember. 
You can get the pill for free from a GP and sexual health clinics, or pay through online suppliers. Further Information about this can be found here

How effective is the pill?

It depends. If the pill is taken without missing any, or vomiting or having diarrhoea, or taking other medications that make the pill less effective, it is more than 99% effective – meaning that if 100 people take the pill for a year, less than one will have an unplanned pregnancy.  However, allowing for the ups and downs of life, it is around 91% effective – meaning that out of 100 people taking the pill for a year, around 9 will get pregnant by accident

How does it work?

Taking the pill temporarily stops the ovaries from releasing an egg each month.  It also thickens the fluid around the neck of the womb (which stops sperm getting to an egg), and makes the lining of the womb thinner so that a fertilised egg can’t settle.  For more information about how the body works, click here
If you forget to take the pill, or are late in starting a new pack, you might need an emergency pill, or an emergency copper coil.

What's right for you?

Does the pill affect my risk of getting cancer?

Breast cancer: Studies have shown a small increased risk of breast cancer in people who use hormonal contraception compared to those who don’t. This increased risk disappears 10 years after stopping the pill.

Cervical cancer: Some studies have shown a small increased risk of cervical cancer if you use a combined hormonal method (pill, patch or ring) for more than 5 years. This increased risk disappears 10 years after stopping the pill.

Ovarian cancer: taking the combined hormonal methods (pill, patch or ring) can lower the risk of ovarian cancer. This benefit persists even after stopping the pill.

Endometrial (womb) cancer: taking the combined hormonal methods (pill, patch or ring) can lower the risk of womb cancer. This benefit persists even after stopping the pill.