Birth Control Pill Uses

Off-Label Uses of the Birth Control Pill

On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend birth control pills for something other than the approved uses listed above. This is called an "off-label" use. At this time, off-label use of birth control pills include treatment of the following conditions:
  • Acne (for birth control pills that are not approved for this use)
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Endometriosis
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (for birth control pills that are not approved for this reason)
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Perimenopause
  • Hirsutism (undesired body or facial hair growth).

How Do Birth Control Pills Work?

Birth control pills contain hormones that act in a few different ways to prevent pregnancy. Most birth control pills are classified as combined oral contraceptives and contain two different types of hormones: an estrogen and a progestin. The hormones in combined oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy primarily by stopping ovulation (the maturation and release of eggs from the ovaries).
However, they also work to prevent pregnancy in two other, less important ways. Birth control pills change the cervical mucus (the fluid of the cervix, which is the lower, narrow part of the uterus that is connected to the vagina), making it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus. They also alter the lining of the uterus (the endometrium), making it less receptive to an embryo.
Some birth control pills contain just a progestin and no estrogen. These are known as progestin-only contraceptives. These birth control pills rely more heavily on changes in the cervical mucus and uterine lining, since they are less effective at preventing ovulation (only about half the women who take them stop ovulating). In comparison, combined oral contraceptives stop ovulation in almost all women (when taken correctly).
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD
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