What is Desogestrel used for?
Desogestrel is an oestrogen-free birth control pill that stops the body ovulating and is therefore taken to prevent pregnancy. Unlike many other progestogen-only pills, even if you forget to take your pill at your regular time, you still have a 12-hour window in which to take Desogestrel and it will remain effective. Progestogen-only pills like Desogestrel are sometimes referred to as “mini-pills” or POPs.
Unlike the traditional pill (which contains the two hormones oestrogen and progestogen), Desogestrel contains only a synthetic form of progestogen, which makes it an ideal birth control option for women who do not react well to products containing oestrogen or who are breastfeeding.
How does Desogestrel work?
Desogestrel is a synthetic version of the female sex hormone known as progestogen. Unlike most POPs (which primarily work by stopping sperm cells from entering the womb), Desogestrel works by preventing the egg cell from ripening. This stops eggs being released from the ovaries, which prevents ovulation and therefore pregnancy.
In order to work effectively, Desogestrel needs to be taken daily without a break.
All women have different experiences when it comes to contraception, and therefore it is important to take time to decide on the right type of birth control measure.
There are many different types of contraceptives, ranging from hormonal birth control (oral contraceptive pills) to barrier contraceptives like condoms. Types of birth control include:
- The combined pill (which comes in a range of strengths and hormone types)
- Other progestogen-only pills, or POPs (with varying strengths and often containing different types of synthetic progestogen)
- The implant (a small plastic rod placed under the skin of the upper arm)
- An injection (which releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream)
- Barrier contraceptives (condoms)
- An intrauterine device (IUD) or coil (a small device placed into the womb)
- A vaginal ring (a small, soft ring placed inside the vagina)
- Emergency contraception (not for regular use)
When it comes to oral contraceptive pills, there are two types: progestogen-only (like Desogestrel) and combined pills. Progestogen-only pills (as the name suggests) only contain the hormone progestogen, whereas combined pills contain a combination of progestogen and oestrogen.
Other progestogen-only birth control pills available include:
Combined birth control pills include:
How do I take Desogestrel?
You should take one Desogestrel tablet daily (at the same time each day) with a glass of water. Repeat until the packet is empty.
When starting a new pack, start at the top row and take the tablet that matches the day of the week printed on the foil. When the pack is empty, simply begin a new pack in exactly the same way. Desogestrel needs to be taken every day to be effective, so you should never take a break before starting a new pack.
- If you’re not currently using hormonal contraception (or you haven’t in the past month) you should wait for the start of your period and take Desogestrel on the first day (if you start after the first day of your period, use a barrier contraceptive such as a condom for the first week)
- If you’re switching to Desogestrel from a combined pill (or another type of hormonal contraceptive), you should take it the first day after discontinuing use of your former contraceptive (and use a barrier contraceptive such as a condom for the first week)
- If you’re switching to Desogestrel from an injection or implant method (such as a coil), you should start taking Desogestrel when your next injection is due or on the day your implant is removed (you will not need to use barrier contraception)
- If you’re using Desogestrel after having a baby, you can start taking it 21 days after the birth (you will not need to use barrier contraception unless you start taking Desogestrel more than 28 days after the birth)
Who is Desogestrel suitable for?
Desogestrel can be prescribed to women over the age of 18 years to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Desogestrel should NOT be taken if you are pregnant or if you are trying to conceive, but it is generally safe for breastfeeding mothers to take. If you are unsure, speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor before taking Desogestrel or any other birth control pill.
What if I miss a pill?
If you forget to take your pill at the regular time, Desogestrel can be taken up to 12 hours late and still be effective in preventing pregnancy.
However, if you are more than 12 hours late taking Desogestrel (or you vomit or have diarrhoea within 4 hours of taking it), you may not be fully protected from getting pregnant. In this instance, you should use a barrier contraceptive such as a condom when having sex, or consider emergency contraception if you’ve already had sex.
In any case, you should take the missed pill as soon as possible and then continue to take your next pill at the regular time. If you are concerned about whether you’ve missed a pill, you can speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
Desogestrel side effects
As with any medication, it is possible that some users of Desogestrel will experience side effects. These are rare, and in fact users of progestogen-only contraceptive pills tend to experience fewer (or at least milder) side effects than users of a combined pill. Your GP may prescribe an oestrogen-free pill like Desogestrel if you have experienced unpleasant side effects (such as depression) from taking combined oral contraceptives.
If you do experience any side effects while taking Desogestrel, these should subside within the first few months. You should consult your doctor if they last longer than this, as they may suggest an alternative contraception method.
Side effects of Desogestrel can include:
- Changes to the menstrual cycle (e.g. irregular periods, spotting, or a lack of periods altogether)
- Mood swings or bouts of depression
- A decreased libido (sex drive)
- Headaches and nausea
- Pain or tenderness in the breasts
- Weight gain
In most cases, these side effects will be mild and should only last for the first few months of taking Desogestrel, but if you are concerned about side effects you are experiencing (e.g. they have persisted for longer than a few months or you are experiencing severe side effects) you should consult your GP.
Before taking Desogestrel, please thoroughly read the information leaflet and be aware of the following warnings:
- As with any hormonal contraceptive, Desogestrel will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (you should use a condom to protect against STIs)
- Hormonal contraceptives may increase the risk of breast cancer (you should check your breasts regularly and speak to your GP if you are concerned)
- In very rare cases, Desogestrel may increase the risk of blood clots (you should speak to your GP immediately if you think you may have a blood clot)
- If you are diabetic, or you suffer from liver disease or high blood pressure, you should consult your GP before taking Desogestrel
- Do NOT use Desogestrel if you allergic to any of its ingredients
When using any type of hormonal birth control, it’s also important to have a contraceptive review with your GP at least once annually. This will ensure the birth control you are using is still the right option for you.
Desogestrel and other medications
Desogestrel generally does not interact with other medications, so it is typically safe to use alongside any other type of treatment or antibiotic.
That said, you should always check with your doctor before taking Desogestrel (or any other hormonal contraceptive) with other medications. Ensure your GP is aware of any existing medications you are using, along with any existing medical conditions you have, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Desogestrel during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Desogestrel should NOT be used during pregnancy or while you are trying to become pregnant. It can be used safely while breastfeeding, but you should check with your doctor or health visitor first.
Desogestrel contains the active ingredient desogestrel (75mcg), along with the following inactive ingredients: lactose monohydrate, povidone K30 (E1201), d-α-tocopherol (E307), soybean oil, colloidal hydrated (E551), stearic acid (E570), hypromellose 2910 (E464), titanium dioxide (E171).
Desogestrel may also contain soy.