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"What are birth control pills and how do they work?

Birth control pills are also known as oral contraceptives (OCs) or, simply, “the pill.” They offer protection against pregnancy by blocking the union of sperm and egg, thereby prevent"...

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CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY

Combination oral contraceptives act by suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entry into the uterus) and the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation).

Pharmacokinetics

The pharmacokinetics of norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol tablets have not been characterized; however, the following pharmacokinetic information regarding norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol is taken from the literature.

Absorption

Norethindrone acetate appears to be completely and rapidly deacetylated to norethindrone after oral administration, since the disposition of norethindrone acetate is indistinguishable from that of orally administered norethindrone (1). Norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol are subject to first-pass metabolism after oral dosing, resulting in an absolute bioavailability of approximately 64% for norethindrone and 43% for ethinyl estradiol (1-3).

Distribution

Volume of distribution of norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol ranges from 2 to 4 L/kg (1-3). Plasma protein binding of both steroids is extensive ( > 95%); norethindrone binds to both albumin and sex hormone binding globulin, whereas ethinyl estradiol binds only to albumin (4).

Metabolism

Norethindrone undergoes extensive biotransformation, primarily via reduction, followed by sulfate and glucuronide conjugation. The majority of metabolites in the circulation are sulfates, with glucuronides accounting for most of the urinary metabolites (5). A small amount of norethindrone acetate is metabolically converted to ethinyl estradiol. Ethinyl estradiol is also extensively metabolized, both by oxidation and by conjugation with sulfate and glucuronide. Sulfates are the major circulating conjugates of ethinyl estradiol and glucuronides predominate in urine.

The primary oxidative metabolite is 2-hydroxy ethinyl estradiol, formed by the CYP3A4 isoform of cytochrome P450. Part of the first-pass metabolism of ethinyl estradiol is believed to occur in gastrointestinal mucosa. Ethinyl estradiol may undergo enterohepatic circulation (6).

Excretion

Norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol are excreted in both urine and feces, primarily as metabolites (5,6). Plasma clearance values for norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol are similar (approximately 0.4 L/hr/kg) (1-3).

Special Population

Drug-Drug Interactions

Numerous drug-drug interactions have been reported for oral contraceptives. A summary of these is found under PRECAUTIONS: DRUG INTERACTIONS.

Last reviewed on RxList: 12/10/2008
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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