Glossary

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M

N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

 

A

Abstinence:
Continuous abstinence involves not having sex (vaginal, anal or oral). It is the only method of birth control that is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Acne:
A common skin disease caused by inflammation of the skin glands and hair follicles that is often marked by pimples, especially on the face.

Active pills:
The pills in a birth control pill pack that contain the hormones that prevent pregnancy. When the active pills run out, you take the inactive pills and usually get your period within a few days. Different brands have different numbers of active versus inactive pills, resulting in a shorter or longer hormone-free interval. In continuous regimens, active pills are taken continuously, typically for 12 weeks, before a hormone-free interval begins.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome):
A potentially fatal sexually transmitted disease caused by infection with the HIV virus. The virus attacks and weakens the body's immune system, making it susceptible to many kinds of infectious diseases it would normally fight off.

Androgens:
A category of male sex hormones that includes testosterone. Androgens are found in men and, in small amounts, in women. In men, androgens are responsible for reproductive development. But in women, these hormones can cause unwanted facial hair. Androgens have also been known to cause acne in both men and women.

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B

Barrier method:
Refers to any birth control method (such as a condom or diaphragm) that blocks sperm from reaching an egg.

Birth control pill:
A reversible method of birth control that is highly effective in preventing pregnancy, when used correctly and consistently. Also known as oral contraceptives (OCs) or the Pill, birth control pills contain hormones that prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. If an egg is released, however, birth control pills also make it difficult for sperm to fertilize the egg.

Breakthrough bleeding:
Bleeding that is sometimes as heavy as a normal menstrual period but takes place between periods while taking a hormonal contraceptive.

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C

Cervical cap:
This reversible method of birth control is a small, soft rubber cap a woman inserts in her vagina before having intercourse. The cap must be left in place for at least 8 hours after intercourse and removed within 48 hours.

Cervical mucus:
A fluid secreted by the cervix, cervical mucus changes in both quality and quantity just before and during ovulation. Birth control pills help to thicken cervical mucus, slowing down the movement of sperm.

Cervix:
The narrow, lower end of the uterus that serves as a pathway between the uterus and the vagina.

Chlamydia:
A common sexually transmitted bacterial infection, chlamydia is a serious health threat because it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Since there are no symptoms, chlamydia often goes undiagnosed but is easy to treat with antibiotics.

Combined pill/combination pill:
The most commonly prescribed kind of birth control pill, combined pills contain both estrogen and progestogen.

Condom (male, female):

Cycle control:
The effort to attain regular, predictable menstrual periods. For instance, some women on birth control pills find that the Pill also significantly affects their menstrual cycle. Their periods may be shorter, lighter, and less painful than those of women who are not on the Pill. Some pills, however, cause spotting or breakthrough bleeding for some women. A pill is said to have “good cycle control” if it keeps a woman's period regular without causing too much bleeding between periods.

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D

Diaphragm:
A reversible method of birth control in which a soft rubber dome with a flexible rim covers the cervix and blocks sperm from entering the uterus. A diaphragm should be used along with a spermicide.

Dienogest (DNG):
A novel progestogen recently introduced in a combined birth control pill

Dosing regimen:
The prescribed frequency or interval for taking a specified amount of medication, such as a birth control pill. Birth control pills are available in dosing regimens of 21/7 (21 days of active pills followed by 7 days of inactive pills); 24/4 (24 days of active pills followed by 4 days of inactive pills); and 26/2 (26 days of active pills followed by 2 days of inactive pills). Continuous dosing regimens are also available.

Dysmenorrhea:
Periods painful enough to limit normal daily activities and require medication (eg, ibuprofen).

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E

Ectopic pregnancy:
A pregnancy that develops outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tubes. Also known as a tubal pregnancy, it can be life threatening.

Emergency contraceptive pill or ECP:
A kind of pill only to be used in an emergency to prevent pregnancy after another contraceptive method has failed, or if no method was used at all. Emergency contraceptive pills are not meant to be used as a regular birth control method.

Endometrium:
The inner lining of the uterus, part of which is shed during a woman's period. At the start of a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg is implanted in the endometrium.

Estradiol:
A form of estrogen produced in a woman's body.

Estradiol valerate (EV):
An estrogen recently introduced in a combined birth control pill, EV converts to estradiol, a hormone already found in a woman's body.

Estrogen:
The female sexual hormone. A hormone produced primarily in a woman's ovaries, estrogen aids in the development of female secondary sex characteristics and plays an important role in reproduction. Synthetic versions of estrogen are used in many drugs.

Ethinyl estradiol:
The synthetic hormone of the group of estrogens that is found in most birth control pills and is much more potent than estrogen.

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F

Fallopian tubes:
Two tubes linking the ovaries to the uterus. Once an egg is released, the fallopian tubes are where fertilization of the egg usually takes place.

Follicle:
A fluid-filled blister inside the ovary where, each month, an egg develops. The follicle releases the egg into the fallopian tube where fertilization usually takes place.

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G

Genital herpes:
Also known as herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 2, this sexually transmitted disease causes outbreaks of sores, mainly on the genitals.

Gonorrhea:
A sexually transmitted disease (STD) that often has no symptoms. Some women may notice a yellowish or bloody vaginal discharge or other symptoms. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Gynecological (GYN) screening:
Performed by a gynecologist or other healthcare provider, this is a checkup or tests that concentrate on a woman's reproductive system.

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H

HaWS:
HaWS, or hormone-associated withdrawal symptoms, is a collection of symptoms, including headache, bloating, or breast tenderness that some women experience during the hormone-free interval of their birth control pill.

HMB:
HMB, or heavy menstrual bleeding, describes excessive periods that interfere with daily activities. Some of the symptoms may include menstrual flow that soaks through sanitary pads or tampons hourly for several hours, periods that last longer than 7 days, and fatigue.

HIV:
The virus that causes AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV is passed from one person to another through bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva. HIV (AIDS) infection is incurable at this time.

Hormone:
A substance produced in the human body that circulates in bodily fluids (such as blood) and causes a specific effect on the activity of cells in another part of the body. As an example, hormones help regulate reproduction and growth.

Human papilloma virus (HPV):
The name for a group of viruses, many of which can be transmitted sexually. In some areas of the world, more than half of all sexually active adults have had an HPV infection. HPV often has no symptoms.

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I

Implant:
A birth control method in which a thin, matchstick-sized rod (or rods) containing a progestogen hormone is inserted under the skin, usually on the inside of the upper arm. The hormone is slowly released over a long time period, preventing pregnancy for up to 3 years.

Inactive pills:
The placebo (nonhormone-containing) pills in a birth control pill wallet that do not contain any active ingredients. The purpose of inactive pills is to keep a woman in the habit of taking the Pill every day. When you start to take the inactive pills in your wallet, you usually get your period within a few days.

Injection:
A birth control method in which an injection of a progestogen alone or of an estrogen-progestogen combination provides contraception for up to 3 months.

Intrauterine device:
A birth control device, usually made of flexible plastic commonly with a twisted copper thread or cylinder, that is put in a woman's uterus by her healthcare provider. It is not known exactly how IUDs work. They seem to prevent pregnancy either by stopping sperm from reaching the egg or by stopping the egg from attaching to the uterus and modifying the endometrium. Most healthcare providers use IUDs only in women who have already had a baby.

Intrauterine system:
Also known as the hormonal coil. Like the copper IUD, the IUS is a small, flexible plastic device that is inserted into a woman's uterus by her healthcare provider. It does not contain copper, however, and releases small amounts of a progestogen hormone. It prevents pregnancy for up to 5 years.

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L

Low-dose birth control pills:
Today's birth control pills have lower doses of estrogen than the first birth control pills introduced in the United States in the 1960s. A birth control pill is considered low dose if it has 0.035 mg or less of estrogen.

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M

Menorrhagia:
A period with excessively heavy and or prolonged bleeding. Typical menstrual flow produces a blood loss of 30 to 60 mL. With menorrhagia, approximately 80 mL of blood or more is lost during the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual cycle:
In women and girls of reproductive age, the cycle of physiological changes that takes place from one menstrual period to the next and lasts 28 days, on average. The menstrual cycle can be thought of as having 4 phases: menstruation, preovulatory phase, ovulation and postovulatory phase. The first day of a woman's period is considered Day 1 of her cycle.

Menstruation:
A woman's period, or menstrual flow. During a typical cycle, if the egg is not fertilized within a certain amount of time, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease and about two-thirds of the uterus lining is shed as menstrual blood.

Mestranol:
A synthetic form of estrogen.

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N

Natural family planning (NLP):
Also known as fertility awareness. NFP comprises several different methods (standard days method, two day method and ovulation method) and is based on the fact that there are a limited number of days during each menstrual cycle in which a woman can get pregnant. NFP involves a woman looking for signs of fertility in herself and/or being aware of the days she can get pregnant by tracking her menstrual cycles.

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O

Oral contraceptive (OC):
One of the most effective reversible birth control methods when taken as directed, oral contraceptives are also known as the Pill or birth control pills. Birth control pills contain hormones (usually a synthetic estrogen and a progestogen) that prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. Even if an egg is released, birth control pills also make it difficult for sperm to fertilize the egg.

Ovary:
One of the pair of female reproductive organs that produce and release eggs and release the hormones estrogen and progesterone into the body.

Ovulation:
The release of a mature ovum, or egg, by an ovary. At birth, a woman's ovaries contain about a million follicles, each with an immature egg in the center. Over the course of her reproductive life, only a few hundred follicles will actually develop into mature eggs. After ovulation, the egg is swept up by one of the fallopian tubes and begins traveling toward the uterus, where it can be fertilized by sperm.

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P

Pap smear or test:
A test in which cells are taken from the cervix and examined under a microscope for abnormalities and cervical cancer.

Patch:
A reversible method of birth control in which a patch, worn on the skin, releases hormones into the blood stream to prevent pregnancy. Most patches are worn continuously, and changed once a week, for three weeks. During the fourth week, no patch is worn and a woman usually gets her period.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID):
One of the most common causes of infertility in women, PID is characterized by inflammation of the female reproductive tract, especially the fallopian tubes. It is often caused by a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and tends to occur more often in women who use intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Perfect use:
The correct and consistent use of a birth control method, as directed by a woman's doctor or healthcare provider. Birth control pills, when used correctly and consistently, are over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Permanent birth control method:
A birth control procedure that causes sterilization and cannot be easily reversed if a person changes his or her mind and decides to have children. In women, sterilization is done through a procedure called tubal ligation (tying off the fallopian tubes) and in men it is called a vasectomy (surgical resectioning of the vas deferens).

PMS:
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, refers to the collection of symptoms, triggered by hormonal changes in the body, that some women experience as their periods approach. Symptoms may include heightened emotions, depressed mood, irritability, crying more than usual and food cravings.

Postovulatory:
The postovulatory stage is the final stage, which in effect is the lead-up to menstruation. This phase lasts for 14 days and concludes the cycle. The woman will then have her period and the whole cycle begins again.

Preovulatory:
The stage when the body is getting ready for ovulation that is to release an egg. Higher levels of estrogen are produced, and in response to estrogen stimulation, the lining of the uterus thickens. The length of time the pre-ovulatory phase lasts varies from woman to woman and from month to month.

Progesterone:
The hormone in a woman's body that helps prepare the endometrium or lining of the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg and that is typically produced after ovulation during the second half of a woman's cycle.

Progestogen:
A synthetic form of the hormone progesterone. One of two hormones found in combination birth control pills. Progestogens help prevent ovulation and also help slow the motion of sperm.

Progestogen-only pills:
Birth control pills, also known as mini-pills, that do not contain an estrogen.

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R

Reversible birth control method:
A method used to temporarily prevent pregnancy. Examples of reversible birth control methods include birth control pills, hormonal injections, and barrier methods such as condoms, spermicide, diaphragms, cervical caps and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

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S

Sexually transmitted disease (STD):
Any disease passed from person to person through sexual contact. Some common STDs are gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV (AIDS) and genital herpes. The most common areas of the body to contract STDs are the penis, vagina, anus, mouth and throat.

Spermicide:
A nonprescription birth control method in the form of foam, cream, jelly, film or a suppository. Spermicides need to be inserted deep into the vagina 10 to 15 minutes before intercourse and are effective for only about one hour. Some condoms come with spermicide already in them.

Spotting:
Small, light bloodstains that occur between a woman's menstrual periods. Usually no sanitary protection is needed (except liner pads).

Sterilization:
A permanent method of birth control. In women, sterilization is done through a procedure called tubal ligation (tying off the fallopian tubes) and in men it is called a vasectomy (surgical resectioning of the vas deferens). Reversing sterilization in both men and women is difficult and may not be successful.

Syphilis:
A sexually transmitted disease that may or may not have symptoms. Curable with antibiotics, but left untreated it can cause permanent damage (to the brain, heart and other organs) and death.

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T

Testosterone:
An androgen or male sex hormone found in small amounts in women. In men, testosterone is necessary for reproductive development. In women, it can cause unwanted facial hair. Increased levels of testosterone can lead to acne.

Thrombosis:
The formation or presence of a blood clot within a blood vessel.

Tubal ligation:
See sterilization.

Typical use:
Use of birth control pills that is not always consistent and correct. Most pregnancies that occur while women are on the Pill are due to missed pills. This happens when a woman does not follow the instructions that accompany her prescription or the directions given to her by her doctor or healthcare provider. With perfect use, birth control pills are over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. With typical use, they are about 95% effective.

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U

Uterus:
Womb. The uterus is the female reproductive organ where a baby is nourished and develops before it is born.

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V

Vaginal Ring:
A reversible method of birth control, the vaginal contraceptive ring is a thin, flexible ring that a woman inserts into her vagina for 3 weeks of each cycle. The ring releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. After 3 weeks of using the ring, a woman must remove it for one full week. Once the ring is removed, her period will usually start.

Vasectomy:
See sterilization.

VTE:
A condition in which a blood clot forms in a vein and sometimes breaks free to circulate in the bloodstream and clog a blood vessel.

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W

Withdrawal:
Birth control method in which the man withdraws his penis from the woman's vagina before ejaculation. Also known as coitus interruptus.

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