The latest news in birth control is actually a new slant on old news.  Hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills have been around for decades and do far more than just prevent pregnancy.  They also regulate, shorten and even eliminate periods, decrease bleeding and cramping and treat acne. Now, hormonal contraception comes in a patch, vaginal ring, injection and IUDs, providing more options than ever.

Birth Control Patch

This thin, plastic patch sticks to skin, contains the same hormones as the pill (estrogen and progestin), and works by preventing ovulation.  Patches are changed weekly for three weeks, followed by a patch-free week when you get your period.  When used as directed, it's 99 percent effective.

Most women can use patches safely but they've been under scrutiny for serious side effects. The Food and Drug Administration released a patient safety bulletin saying, "A woman using the weekly patch may be exposed to about 60% more estrogen on average than if she were taking a daily birth control pill. . .. Increased estrogen exposure may increase the risk of adverse events such as blood clots. . .."   In 2006, the FDA changed labeling to warn users of increased risk but stresses that when used according to the labeling, patches are safe and effective.

Talk to your health care provider about whether you're a safe candidate for any medication.

Birth Control Ring: The ring (Nuvaring), a flexible, plastic ring containing estrogen and progestin is inserted vaginally and changed monthly. It works by:  1) preventing ovulation and 2) thickening cervical mucous to block sperm from entering the uterus.  It's 99 percent effective when used exactly as directed. The Mayo Clinic says, "Women who use the vaginal ring may be at slightly increased risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots."  However, all hormonal contraceptives have risks and potential side effects.

Birth Control Injection: The Mayo Clinic says, "Depo-Provera is the only injectable contraceptive in the United States. Each injection contains...the hormone progestin, which prevents pregnancy for up to three months."   It's 97-99 percent effective and all you have to do is get a shot every three months.  Depo-Provera reduces menstrual bleeding and many women have no period at all.  It's a good choice for women with abnormally heavy periods, cramping or a tendency to forget their pills.

IUDs: Back in the 1980s a popular IUD brand was yanked from the market for safety concerns, but recently the IUD has re-emerged as a safe contraceptive that's more than 99 percent effective.

The Mayo Clinic explains, "The hormonal IUD (Mirena) ... is inserted into the uterus and can remain in place for up to five years. It prevents pregnancy in a few different ways. 1)...inhibits sperm motility and makes the uterine lining thin and unsuitable for pregnancy. 2)... impedes sperm's journey to the fallopian tubes, inhibiting fertilization. 3) If fertilization occurs, the device prevents the embryo from attaching to the uterine wall. "

With so many hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options available, a thoughtful discussion with your health care provider can help you choose the right one for your lifestyle.