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Popular Tri or Sprintec Birth Control: Side Effects and 5 Benefits

Popular Tri or Sprintec Birth Control: Side Effects and 5 Benefits

  • Sonia Easaw, M.S., MPH
    Reviewed By: Shannon DeVita DNP, FNP-BC, CPNP-PC, Julie Lamonoff, CNM, OBGYN-NP

Ask a friend what birth control pill they take, and chances are pretty high it's a brand called Sprintec™. Sprintec is super popular and for good reason. Kudos to you for looking into it!

Sprintec or Tri-Sprintec™ could be the low-cost options you're looking for.

Is Sprintec a good birth control method?

Yes. Sprintec is a well-known and well-studied birth control pill, and could easily be the most-used brand of oral contraceptive; in this analysis of the top brands that women use, Sprintec came out as the second most-used brand in the study, barely eclipsed by the much more expensive Lo Loestrin Fe™.

Sprintec is the generic version of the popular pill called Ortho-Cyclen*. When the makers of Ortho-Cyclen presented it to the FDA for approval, they confirmed it had less than a 3% failure rate with typical use, and less than 1% failure rate when taken perfectly, without missing any pills.

*Editor's Note: Ortho-Cyclen has been discontinued by the FDA, but there are equivalent brands like Sprintec.

Sprintec has a proven track record as a safe and effective oral birth control pill, listing the same potential side effects as other birth control pills. It might have additional benefits as a way to reduce acne problems, too. We'll talk more about that in a minute.

What type of birth control is Sprintec?

Sprintec is a combination birth control pill, meaning it contains two different hormones, estrogen and progestin (the other kind of pill is the mini-pill, which only contains progestin). Specifically, Sprintec contains the hormones norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol.

Sprintec is a monophasic pill, which just means that every active pill has the same level or amount of hormones in it (you can think of it as having 1 "phase" of hormones). Tri-Sprintec (like Ortho Tri-Cyclen*) uses the exact same hormones as Sprintec, but it's a triphasic pill, meaning there are three different dose levels in the active pills. You can think of Tri-Sprintec as having 3 "phases" of hormones throughout the month.

*Editor's Note: Ortho Tri-Cyclen has been discontinued, though there are other brands like Tri-Sprintec that can be used in its place.

Sprintec vs. Tri-Sprintec

Why would you choose one over the other (Sprintec vs. Tri-Sprintec)? Both types are equally good at preventing pregnancy. Your best bet is to consult your doctor on this one. The multiphasic versions were originally developed to reduce the total dosage of progestin your body would get during one cycle, but without an increase in breakthrough bleeding.

A review of the research by the reputable Cochrane Library, however, concluded that there just wasn't enough evidence to say that multiphasic was any better than monophasic for bleeding patterns.

There is some evidence that triphasic pills are better at treating acne, which we'll discuss below.

There is also a version called Tri-Lo-Sprintec, which contains lower doses of hormones.

5 Benefits of Sprintec

The biggest benefit that makes Sprintec stand out from other combination birth control pills is that Tri-Sprintec is FDA approved for use specifically against acne.

Ortho Tri-Cyclen (nowadays you'd get Tri-Sprintec) is one of just four birth control pills approved by the FDA for use to reduce acne. Researchers published results in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology that found that triphasic pills, with the three "phases" of progestin across the cycle, had a positive effect on acne.

Sprintec (and Tri-Sprintec) have other benefits that they share with most other combination birth control pills:

  • It works: According to the CDC, combined birth control pills have a failure rate of 7% with typical use (meaning when women missed pills sometimes). Though the failure rate is only 1% if you take it perfectly, without missing any pills.

  • If you decide you want to become pregnant, you can easily stop taking Sprintec. Its effects are fully reversible, and you can become pregnant again shortly after you stop taking it.

  • Because it's so easy to start and stop taking Sprintec, you can try it out if you're trying to find a birth control pill that causes the fewest side effects for you.

  • It's possible to skip your period when taking Sprintec; you can talk to your doctor about that.

  • Because Sprintec is a generic drug, it can cost as low as $0 with insurance. Even if you don't have insurance, it won't cost a ton compared to some other birth control pills. A year's supply of Sprintec could cost less than $100 out of pocket.

Side effects of Sprintec

Much like its benefits, Sprintec shares the same potential side effects as other combination birth control pills. Because hormones will react your body in a way that's unique to you, you might experience none of these side effects, some minor side effects, or side effects that you find so unpleasant you may want to try a different pill, one that uses different synthetic hormones.

The chance of serious side effects from taking birth control is very small in healthy women. In fact, the risks are smaller than the health risks associated with getting pregnant. However, you'll always want to talk to your doctor before taking birth control pills.

Serious side effects include:

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Stroke
  • Embolism

But if you are obese, smoke, have diabetes, or high blood pressure, these factors drastically increase your risk of encountering cardiovascular side effects with birth control pills. It's important to talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors before making a decision on which birth control pill to use.

Other more common side effects might include:

  • Headaches
  • Break-through bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Increase in vaginal discharge
  • Breast tenderness

Hormones affect different women in different ways, so it's impossible to know which side effects will be a problem for you or how bad they'll be. Some women experience spotting while on Sprintec, while others report lighter, less painful periods. It's good to know that there are some fixes to the side effects, like taking the pill before you go to bed to help prevent nausea. Also, these side effects may subside with time.

Birth control pills can cause fluid retention, leading to a feeling of "bloating" and perceived weight gain. Researchers looking at 49 studies of different birth control pills found no strong statistical evidence that taking the pill caused weight gain.

Research has found that birth control pills could make your breasts larger, although the reasons are poorly understood. Nevertheless, that feeling of being bloated and fat stinks, and it is one possible side effect to consider.

How does Sprintec compare to other birth control brands?

When you started searching for a new birth control pill, you probably found a list of tongue-twisting brand names and even harder to pronounce active ingredients.

What's the difference between Sprintec and Trinessa, Mononessa, Estarylla, or others? Luckily, you don't need a medical degree to understand the differences, because the important thing to know is that every brand name and generic combination birth control pill is highly effective at preventing pregnancy.

So is there a difference? Each pill uses different combinations of synthetic hormones, and different doses and dosing patterns. There are low dose pills, monophasic, biphasic, and triphasic. And they all work great at preventing pregnancy! But they all interact with your body in different ways, so some of them tend to cause certain side effects more than others, and some will cause different side effects for you than they do for other women.

By the way, Mononessa and Trinessa are also generic versions of Ortho-Cyclen and Ortho Tri-Cyclen. They have the same active ingredients as Sprintec, and are just as effective as Sprintec, although the pills may look slightly different and there might be differences in cost. But other than that, same stuff.

Recap: Is Sprintec or Tri-Sprintec right for you?

Sprintec is a safe and effective combination birth control pill, and since it's a generic, it's pretty inexpensive, too. Tri-Sprintec is one of the few birth control pills to have official FDA approval for use specifically to treat problem acne. All that upside could make it the best choice when you're choosing your birth control pill.

With writing contribution from Ed Grabianowski


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