Ethinylestradiol

  • Make sure you know when to take your dose of ethinylestradiol. If you are uncertain, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Do not rely on these tablets to prevent pregnancy - they are not intended to be used as a contraceptive. Your doctor will advise you about whether or not you need to use contraception.
Type of medicine Oestrogen (may also be spelled estrogen)
Used for Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Protect against osteoporosis
Menstrual problems
Prostate cancer
Hereditary haemorrhagic telangiectasia
Available as Tablets

Ethinylestradiol is a man-made form of the female hormone oestrogen. It can be used alongside progestogen (another female hormone) to treat period problems as well as to prevent pregnancy. There is more information about this in a separate leaflet called 'Combined hormonal contraceptives'.

Ethinylestradiol can be used as a hormone replacement in women who are not producing enough oestrogen naturally. This can be in older women undergoing menopause (sometimes called "the change of life") or in younger women whose ovaries have not developed properly.

During the menopause or "change", a woman's female hormone levels begin to fall. Menopause normally happens between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can occur earlier or later. Ethinylestradiol can be used to replace these hormones and help relieve many of the problems associated with menopause, such as hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and protecting against osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). However, other treatments for osteoporosis are tried before using ethinylestradiol to treat this condition.

Oestrogen is also naturally present at lower levels in men. Ethinylestradiol can be used in the treatment of prostate cancer. It is also used under specialist supervision in the treatment of hereditary haemorrhagic telangiectasia (a disorder of the blood vessels).

This leaflet is only relevant if you have been prescribed ethinylestradiol for menstrual disorders or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If you have been prescribed ethinylestradiol for other indications, please refer to the manufacturer's printed information leaflet.

Before taking ethinylestradiol make sure your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have a breast lump, have had breast cancer, or if there is a history of breast cancer in your family.
  • If you have or have ever had an abnormal growth in the womb or endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the lining of the womb).
  • If you have ever had, or a close relative has ever had, thrombosis (blood clots) or arterial disease.
  • If you have ever had a transient ischaemic attack (sometimes called a 'mini-stroke'), stroke or heart attack.
  • If you have liver problems including Dubin-Johnson or Rotor's syndromes.
  • If you have heart disease.
  • If you have ever had itching, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), chorea (jerky involuntary movements) or pemphigoid gestation (severe itchy, blistering disorder) while you were pregnant.
  • If you have hyperprolactinaemia (excess prolactin), kidney problems, inflammatory bowel disease or varicose veins.
  • If you have diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), porphyria (a blood disorder), gallstones or migraines.
  • If you know you have an abnormal growth in your pituitary gland.
  • If you have ever had, or a close relative has ever had, hypertriglyceridaemia (high levels of lipids in blood).
  • If you have ever had depression.
  • If you have any unexplained vaginal bleeding.
  • If you are not fully mobile.
  • If you are a smoker.
  • If you are taking other medicines, including those available to buy without a prescription, herbal or complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to this or to any other medicine.
  • Before starting this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack.
  • Your doctor may tell you to take ethinylestradiol on certain days of your menstrual cycle only. If you are not sure about when to take your medicine, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Take ethinylestradiol exactly as your doctor has told you.
  • Try to take ethinylestradiol at the same time each day to avoid missing any doses.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember unless it is nearly time for your next dose, in which case leave out the missed dose. Do not take two doses together to make up for a missed dose.
  • If you suspect that you may be pregnant, stop taking ethinylestradiol at once and consult your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Do not rely on these tablets to prevent pregnancy - they are not intended to be used as a contraceptive. Your doctor will advise you about whether or not you need to use contraception.
  • Keep your regular appointments with your doctor so your progress can be monitored.
  • Regularly check your breasts for any lumps and go for regular breast screening and cervical smear tests.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with your other medicines.
  • Travelling that involves long periods of immobility (more than five hours) can increase the risk of serious side-effects affecting the blood circulation and in rare cases may lead to blood clots. Taking appropriate exercise during the journey and possibly wearing elastic hosiery can reduce this risk. If you are concerned, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Possible side-effects What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling or being sick, stomach cramps Eat little and often and stick to simple foods
Headache Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller. If the headache continues or is sudden and severe, contact your doctor
Dizziness Make sure your reactions are normal before driving, operating machinery or doing any other jobs that could be dangerous if you were not fully alert
Irregular bleeding If the irregular bleeding continues, speak with your doctor
Dry eyes If you wear contact lenses, ask your optician for advice
High blood pressure, breast enlargement or tenderness, changes in body weight, fluid retention, irritability, changes in sex drive, changes in mood, vaginal thrush, leg cramps, jerky movements and brown patches on skin If any of these become troublesome, speak with your doctor

Important: if you experience sudden severe chest pain, breathlessness, unexplained swelling or pain in the lower leg, stomach pain, unusually severe headache, collapse or fainting, fits or numbness of one side of the body, jaundice, loss of vision or hearing, or you become unable to swallow, contact your doctor immediately.

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

  • Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else has taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
  • This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
  • Never keep out of date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
  • If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • British National Formulary; 62nd Edition (Sep 2011) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London
  • Manufacturer's PIL, Ethinylestradiol Tablets BP 10 mcg, 50 mcg, 1 mg; Manufacturer's PIL, Ethinylestradiol Tablets BP 10 mcg, 50 mcg, 1 mg, UCB Pharma Limited, electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated February 2011.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Last Checked:
15/11/2011
Document ID:
3256 (v22)
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