03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Myths About The Pill

There's probably no prescription medicine more familiar than the birth control pill. After all, when a woman says she's taking "the Pill," everyone knows exactly what pill she's talking about.

Since its introduction more than 45 years ago, more than 80 percent of American women have taken the Pill at some point in their lives, and about 11 million are currently on it today. When you add it all up, that makes it one of the most widely used medicines, especially among young healthy women who typically aren't taking many medications.

Couple that fact with the generations of women who have passed down their own personal experiences over the years, and you can understand why so many myths surround this popular method of birth control.

Far and away, the most common myth associated with the birth control pill is that it causes weight gain, according to women's health expert Dr. Valerie Schulz, who recently co-authored a new guide to the Pill on "Just as many women actually lose weight as gain weight while on the Pill, and the research shows that, in most cases, the Pill does not cause weight gain," she says.

If you notice weight gain while on the Pill, it is more likely due to fluid retention, or water weight, and is usually temporary and cyclical. So, any noticeable gain usually doesn't last and will tend to ebb and flow.

Many women also may not realize that the Pill has changed over the years, so the Pill that their mother or grandmother based their experiences on was quite different from the ones today.

Most are probably aware that the Pill contains estrogen, a hormone that helps govern reproduction. That much has stayed the same. But there's a second hormone, progestin, that's also included, and there are now lots of different types of progestin being paired with the same basic type of estrogen. Adding a final wrinkle to the equation are different dosage levels of both hormones. Little wonder it can get confusing.

Today, many women take a low-dose Pill. This means the amount of estrogen contained is less than 35 micrograms. Low-dose pills still provide effective contraception, but there can be a trade off particularly in increased rates of unexpected bleeding or spotting - something mom probably didn't have to deal with as much. In fact, some of the newer types of progestin were developed to help lessen this as well as other potential side effects. This form of contraception is not for everyone and individuals with certain medical conditions should check with their doctor before initiating this regimen. Smokers are at particular risk for some of the more serious side effects of taking this medication that include blood clots. In addition, oral contraception does not protect the patient from sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS , genital herpes, and hepatitis to name a few.

To maintain peak effectiveness and lessen side effects, it's also important to take the Pill not only every day, but also around the same time of day. The best way to do this is to make it a part of another daily routine, for example, brushing your teeth. Modern technology can also help - simply set your cell phone or sidekick alarm as a reminder.