Behind America’s Most Prescribed Birth Control: Sprintec, Microgestin FE, and Depo-Provera

four types of medication routes - pad, cream, injection and bottle
Katie Mui
Katie Mui is on the Research Team at GoodRx.
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With the spotlight on women’s healthcare coverage this year, you might be wondering what the best birth control is. While there’s no right answer to that, since every person has different needs and reacts to medications differently, we can talk about the most commonly prescribed birth control brands in the U.S. Below, we break down the differences between sprintec, microgestin FE 1.5/30, and Depo-Provera – and who should take them.

Sprintec

Sprintec is a monophasic pill, the most common type of combination pill. The term combination indicates there are two hormones involved, progestin and estrogen – both are typically produced by the ovaries at varying levels throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. Monophasic (or “single phase”) means each active pill in the pack contains the same dose of hormones. Each monthly pack of sprintec consists of 28 pills – 21 days of active pills, followed by 7 days of inactive (sugar) pills.

Microgestin FE 1.5/30

Microgestin FE 1.5/30, like sprintec, is a monophasic combination pill. While microgestin FE 1.5/30 has a lower dose of estrogen than sprintec (30 vs. 35 mcg of ethinyl estradiol) which could possibly lead to fewer hormone-related side effects, the main difference between the two lies within the inactive pills. The “FE” in the name refers to the extra dose of iron in the last row of pills in the pack. Some women prefer the additional iron if they bleed heavily or experience temporary anemia during their periods.\

Depo-Provera

Depo-Provera, more commonly known as “the shot”, comes as an injection rather than a pill that you take with water. The other major difference from sprintec and microgestin FE 1.5/30 is that it only contains one hormone, progestin. Progestin stops ovulation to prevent fertilization, thins the uterine lining to prevent implantation, and thickens the cervix to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. The effects of progestin alone are enough to prevent pregnancy, and a single dose of Depo-Provera will cover you for 3 months.

All long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), like the shot, the patch, and the implant, are progestin-only. (The only exception is the copper IUD which contains no hormones at all since copper is toxic to sperm.) The reason why most birth control pills are combination, and thus contain estrogen, is because progestin-only pills are very unforgiving. If you miss a dose by more than 3 hours, or miss it all together, the risk of pregnancy goes up. You’ll have to use an additional barrier contraceptive (like condoms) if you plan on having sex within the next 48 hours. LARCs are administered or changed much less frequently, so the risk of forgetting and having these issues is a lot lower.

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For women who’d rather stick to the pill but aren’t as good at remembering to take it, combination pills like sprintec and microgestin FE 1.5/30 exist. Estrogen also boosts the contraceptive effects of progestin, regulates cycles better, and keeps spotting to a minimum. It can, however, cause more side effects, like lowered sex drive, acne, bloating, weight gain, and mood swings. Some drug manufacturers produce a low estrogen version of their birth control pill to decrease these side effects.

Though sprintec, microgestin FE 1.5/30, and Depo-Provera are the top 3 most commonly prescribed birth control brands in the U.S., they are not necessarily the best options for you, or any particular individual for that matter. There are hundreds of different oral contraceptive brands alone. If you’re not sure where to begin, see this birth control tool which includes information about pills, LARCs, barrier contraceptives, and other methods.

Prices shown are average GoodRx discounted prices as of Dec 19, 2017. Local results may vary.

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