Clinical author's note Michael Stewart 18/8/2020: Ethinlyestradiol tablets were discontinued in the UK in July 2020. At the time of review there are no branded or generic products in the UK solely containing ethinylestradiol. It is still available in combination products for oral contraception. Ethinylestradiol may still be available in other countries. This medicine leaflet is based on medical information available in the UK at the time of writing and is left here for reference purposes. Please also refer to the manufacturer's information supplied with your medicine.
For information about ethinylestradiol in contraception please see our separate leaflet called Combined hormonal contraceptives.
Ethinylestradiol is taken in cycles. Make sure you know which days of the month to take a tablet, and which are tablet-free days. If you are uncertain, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Do not rely on the tablets to prevent pregnancy - they are not intended to be used as a contraceptive.
Your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of the treatment with you before you begin.
|Type of medicine||An oestrogen (may also be spelled estrogen)|
|Used for||Hormone replacement therapy (HRT); menstrual problems|
|Available as||Tablets (discontinued)|
Ethinylestradiol is a man-made form of the naturally occurring female hormone called oestrogen. It is prescribed to treat period (menstrual) problems, and also to help ease menopausal symptoms. It is usually prescribed alongside another female hormone called a progestogen.
Ethinylestradiol is used to supplement or replace the body's natural oestrogen. It helps to relieve many of the problems associated with the menopause, such as hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. It can also help to protect against 'thinning' of the bones (osteoporosis) although other treatments are usually preferred for this.
This leaflet is appropriate if you have been prescribed ethinylestradiol for a menstrual disorder or for hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If you have been prescribed it for any other reason, please ask your doctor for further advice or refer to the manufacturer's printed information leaflet. Ethinylestradiol is also one of the hormones that are used in the contraceptive pill (the pill) - there is more information about this in a separate leaflet called Combined hormonal contraceptives.
Before taking ethinylestradiol
Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking ethinylestradiol it is important that your doctor knows:
- If you have any unexplained vaginal bleeding, or if you have ever had a problem with your womb such as fibroids, endometriosis, or endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the lining of your womb).
- If you have a heart condition or have had a stroke.
- If you or a close family member have ever had a problem with a blood clot in a vein or artery.
- If you have had breast cancer or any lumps in your breast, or if a close family member has had breast cancer.
- If you have any of the following: diabetes (diabetes mellitus), gallstones, migraine, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), or porphyria.
- If you have a problem with the way your liver works.
- If you have ever had depression.
- If you have been told you have high levels of prolactin in your blood (hyperprolactinaemia).
- If you or a close relative have ever had high levels of lipids in blood (hypertriglyceridaemia).
- If you had any problems with jaundice, severe itchy blistering, or any involuntary muscle movements during a pregnancy.
- If you could be pregnant or if you are breastfeeding.
- If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.
- If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
How to take ethinylestradiol
- Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about ethinylestradiol and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you may experience from taking the tablets.
- It is usual to take one dose of ethinylestradiol a day, although your doctor will ask you to take the tablets on certain days of the month only. It is usual to have 7-10 tablet-free days a month. It is important that you take ethinylestradiol exactly as your doctor tells you to. The directions will be printed on the label of the pack of tablets to remind you, but if there is anything you are still unsure about, ask your pharmacist if you need further advice.
- Try to take the tablets at the same time of day as this will help you to remember to take your doses regularly. The tablets are easily swallowed with a drink of water.
- If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the forgotten dose. Do not take two doses at the same time to make up for a missed dose.
Getting the most from your treatment
- Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress. Also, regularly check your breasts for any lumps and remember to attend for any regular breast screening and cervical smear tests.
- There are some risks which are associated with taking an oestrogen - your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of the treatment with you before you start. The risks are reduced when small doses are used for short periods of time. If used for a long time the incidence of breast cancer and other adverse effects may increase. Because of this, the decision to continue the treatment needs to be made individually and your progress should be reviewed regularly. If you have any concerns at any time, make an appointment to discuss them with your doctor.
- Travelling that involves long periods of immobility (more than three hours) can increase the risk of serious side-effects 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 would like more advice about this, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
- If you are due to have an operation, tell the person carrying out the surgery that you are taking an oestrogen, as you may be advised to stop the treatment for a while if you are likely to be on bed rest.
- 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. If at any time you suspect that you may be pregnant, stop taking ethinylestradiol and consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Can ethinylestradiol cause problems?
Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with ethinylestradiol. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.
|Ethinylestradiol side-effects||What can I do if I experience this?|
|Feeling sick (nausea)||Eat simple meals (avoid rich or spicy foods).|
|Headache||Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller. If the headache continues or is unusually severe, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.|
|Dry eyes||If you wear contact lenses, ask your optician for advice if this becomes troublesome.|
|Stomach cramps, bloating, weight changes, breast tenderness, fluid retention, rash, changes in sexual desire, mood changes, leg cramps, high blood pressure, kidney stones, menstrual bleeding or spotting||Speak with your doctor if any of these become troublesome.|
Stop taking the tablets and contact your doctor for advice straightaway if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden chest pain.
- Sudden breathlessness (or if you cough up blood).
- Swelling or pain in a leg.
- An unusually severe headache.
If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.
How to store ethinylestradiol
- Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
- Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
Important information about all medicines
Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. 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.If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with your other medicines.
If you are having an operation or any dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.
Do not 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 and references
British National Formulary, 79th Edition (Mar 2020); British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London.