Compliance and oral contraceptives: a review

Contraception. 1995 Sep;52(3):137-41. doi: 10.1016/0010-7824(95)00161-3.


Compliance difficulties are more common among oral contraceptive (OC) users than generally appreciated by clinicians, in part because unintended pregnancy is a relatively infrequent consequence and in part because more common manifestations such as spotting and bleeding may not be recognized as resulting from poor compliance. While improving compliance is a shared responsibility of patients, clinicians, and manufacturers, the clinician is the focal point for these efforts. Counseling must be individualized, which requires knowledge of factors that predict compliance and an understanding of the patient's decision-making process as it relates to medications. Most OC compliance research has focused on adolescents, where predictors of poor compliance include multiple sex partners, low evaluation of personal health, degree of concern about pregnancy, and previous abortion. Good compliance has been linked with patient satisfaction with the clinician, the absence of certain side effects, establishing a regular daily routine to take OCs, and reading information distributed with OC packaging.

PIP: The findings of decades of research on user compliance of drug treatment regimens can be reduced to a simple statement that a third of users always comply, a third never complies, and a third sometimes complies. The efficacy of oral contraceptives (OC), however, relies on compliance even though poor compliance has no immediate or uniform consequences. Research on OC compliance has focused on adolescents because of their high pregnancy rates and their high reliance on OCs. Young women frequently use OCs in a sporadic fashion. While most adolescents are as compliant as older women, only 26% of those aged 14 and younger take their OC daily as compared to 40% of all other age groups. Attempts have been made to identify factors predicting noncompliance using 1) the individualistic model, which measures a number of factors using statistical techniques; 2) the health belief model which postulates that health-seeking behavior depends upon perception of health risk, and 3) the patient-provider model which highlights the importance of communication techniques. Factors which have been found to influence OC use are the occurrence of side effects, the routine followed, and failure to read and/or understand the packaging information. Little is known about the influence of patient-provider interactions, and only a few strategies to improve compliance have been studied. To improve compliance, health care providers should properly counsel women on their choice of method, side effects, OC misinformation and beneficial effects, correct use, missed pill instructions, and how to get additional information. Proper follow-up techniques should also be used. OC users can improve compliance by following a regular routine, carefully reading packaging information, knowing what to do if an OC is missed, and identifying a back-up method. Manufacturers should encourage research into compliance predictors and factors, incorporate findings into tools to help clinicians identify those at risk, use packaging that encourages compliance, and develop standardized and comprehensible written materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contraceptives, Oral* / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Pregnancy


  • Contraceptives, Oral