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Types of Birth Control Pills

Several different varieties of birth control pills are available, including combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives. You can also choose a pill based on dose; pills may have 20 mcg, 35 mcg, or 50 mcg of estrogen. Since there are so many different types of birth control pills to choose from, talk to your healthcare provider about the right one for you.

Birth Control Pill Types: An Overview

Many different types of birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are available, as well as many different ways to classify them. Birth control pills can be classified by dose, hormone content, and phases.

Dose

One way to categorize birth control pills is by dose. Older birth control pills, including most of the early pills that are no longer available, usually have a high dose of estrogen (50 mcg or more). Most of today's birth control pills contain 35 mcg of estrogen or less (these are known as low-dose pills). A few have as little as 20 mcg of estrogen per pill (these are known as ultra-low-dose pills). To determine how much estrogen your birth control pill contains, look for the strength of "ethinyl estradiol," the estrogen used in most birth control pills.

Hormone Content

Birth control pills can be divided into the following categories:
  • Combined oral contraceptives -- Containing an estrogen and a progestin. These are the most effective and most commonly used birth control pills.
  • Progestin-only contraceptives -- Containing only a progestin. These are less effective and are usually reserved for women who cannot take combined oral contraceptives, such as breastfeeding women or women with clotting disorders.
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD
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