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Home / Contraception / Mini Pill / What are the side effects of the desogestrel mini-pill?

What are the side effects of the desogestrel mini-pill?

Learn more about the possible side effects of desogestrel

The mini-pill, or progestogen-only pill (POP), is a pill used for contraception. The most common type of mini-pill contains desogestrel. Desogestrel is available under several brands including Cerazette.

It works by preventing ovulation, where an egg is released each month during the menstrual cycle for fertilisation. This prevents pregnancy.

Like other forms of contraception, it can cause some side effects. It’s important to know what you might expect if you are currently taking it or interested in taking it.

Worried young woman reading leaflet for contraceptive pill.

Keep reading to learn more about desogestrel side effects, what to expect and how to manage side effects.

What are the most common side effects of the mini-pill?

The most common desogestrel mini-pill side effects affect around 1 in every 10 women who take it. That doesn’t mean you will experience side effects. Every woman will react differently to the mini-pill.

Menstrual cycle changes

One of the main reported side effects of desogestrel mini-pills is irregular bleeding. This is because it contains a synthetic version of progesterone which is responsible for managing your menstrual cycle.

In the majority of cases, the mini-pill improves periods. Women on the mini-pill experience shorter and lighter periods. So for that reason, it’s often prescribed for heavy or painful periods.

However, it can also make your periods more irregular.

Decorative 2D model of a uterus on a pink background.

For some women, they experience spotting or bleeding between periods. 3 in 10 women Trusted source Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Professional Organization Go to source on the mini-pill report it as a side effect in more than one cycle.

For 2-3 in every 10 women Trusted source Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Professional Organization Go to source , it means their periods stop altogether. This is because, in some cases, the mini-pill can stop ovulation completely.

Breast changes

Desogestrel can also cause breast tenderness and enlargement in some women.

This is because the hormone progesterone can affect your breast tissue, as it does during a typical menstrual cycle. Hormone changes can also cause fluid retention, which may make your breasts feel larger.

These effects are usually only slight and they return to normal after a few months of taking it. However, if you have persistent or worrying changes in your breasts, speak to your doctor.

Mood changes

You may also experience a difference in your mood. This is due to hormone changes. Clinical research Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source has found that progesterone may worsen mood symptoms, due to the way it affects brain activity.


Some women report experiencing headaches on desogestrel. These are sometimes known as hormone headaches.

The link is unclear. However, it is believed to be due to the fluctuating levels of oestrogen. This is because the mini-pill only stabilises progesterone levels.

The best way to help with headaches on the mini-pill is to eat small, frequent meals to keep your blood sugar up, get enough sleep and avoid stress.

Low sex drive

You might also experience a low sex drive. Research Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source suggests this is because the mini-pill works by suppressing ovulation, which affects your sexual desire. Also, as your oestrogen levels still fluctuate, dips in oestrogen levels may affect sensitivity and cause vaginal dryness.


Some women experience nausea, particularly in the first few months. This is because the hormones can irritate the lining of your stomach.

One way to combat nausea on the mini-pill is to take it with a meal. You may also benefit from over-the-counter treatments for nausea or indigestion.

Skin reactions

The mini-pill can affect your skin. Some women see improvements in their skin while others experience more breakouts.

Some women experience acne as a side effect. This is because your skin is regulated by hormones and elevated progesterone and testosterone levels on the mini-pill can cause blemishes.

Young woman with acne on her cheek.

However, for some women, the mini-pill improves acne. This is because the mini-pill stops ovulation. During ovulation, your ovaries produce testosterone which is also linked to acne. So stopping ovulation will prevent breakouts.

Learn more about acne

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Weight gain

Many women report experiencing weight gain on the mini-pill. This is often due to fluid retention. Usually, this weight gain is only slight and does not impact your health.

Most research finds that weight gain is not significant with mini-pill use. A 2016 review Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source looked at 22 studies investigating this relationship. They found that with 6-12 months mean weight gain was less than 2kg (4.4lb).

After 2-3 years of use, they noticed more weight gain. However, most women will gain weight in this timeframe whether they take the mini-pill or not.

Uncommon and rare side effects of the mini-pill

Below are some more uncommon and rare desogestrel pill side effects.

Uncommon side effects Rare side effects
  • alopecia (hair loss)
  • contact lens intolerance
  • fatigue
  • ovarian cyst
  • vulvovaginal infections (e.g. vaginal thrush)
  • erythema nodosum - a condition that causes large painful patches of red skin.

Breast cancer

There is a slightly elevated risk of developing breast cancer in women who use or have recently used the desogestrel mini-pill.

A recent study found that the risk of breast cancer in women under the age of 50 increased by 20-30% on the mini-pill. However, the risk in young women is already so low this percentage increase doesn’t equate to a much greater risk.

8 women aged 16-20 and 265 women aged 35-39 in every 100,000 develop breast cancer according to the FSRH Trusted source Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Professional Organization Go to source (The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare).

In addition, this risk also gradually disappears during the 10 years after stopping it.

Mini-pill vs the combined pill

The combined contraceptive pill (COCP) contains a synthetic oestrogen (ethinylestradiol) as well as a synthetic progesterone. So, naturally, there are some differences between the two.

Below are the common side effects of the combined pill vs the desogestrel mini-pill.

Common side effects of the combined pill Common side effects of the desogestrel mini-pill
  • acne
  • fluid retention
  • headaches
  • abnormal bleeding between periods
  • nausea
  • weight gain
  • breast abnormalities
  • mood changes
  • headache
  • low sex drive
  • irregular menstrual cycle
  • nausea
  • skin reactions
  • weight gain

The main difference between the two pills is that combined pills can rarely cause heart disease. Oestrogen can cause high blood pressure as an uncommon side effect. The combined pill can also slightly increase the risk of blood clots.

While these side effects are rare, your doctor will prescribe you the mini-pill over the combined pill if you are at risk of heart problems. This may be if you smoke, are 40 and above, or you have an existing heart problem.

How do I manage side effects?

Most common and mild side effects should go away on their own within a few months. The best way to manage most of these side effects is to keep a healthy lifestyle.

  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • avoid salty foods if you experience fluid retention
  • have a regular sleep pattern
  • manage stress

However, if the side effects still don’t disappear, you should speak with your GP.

Alternatives to the mini-pill

Your doctor may recommend you use a different method of contraception. This may include other hormonal forms of birth control, such as the:

Equally, you may wish to try non-hormonal methods. Another long-term contraceptive option is the intrauterine device (IUD), otherwise known as the copper coil.

You could also simply use male or female condoms. They cause little to no side effects and are cheap and effective when used correctly.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 21-06-2024
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Further reading

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Does the mini pill stop my period?

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
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