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Is generic birth control any less safe or effective than the more expensive or brand names?

Jenny Ingle Pappas

Medically reviewed by Jenny Ingle Pappas, MSN, APRN, FNP-C on November 24, 2020

It’s a head-scratcher: You talk to your doctor about taking a specific brand of birth control, but the name of the drug on your pack doesn’t match what you discussed. It turns out you’ve been prescribed a generic version of the pill you wanted. You may be wondering, is generic birth control any less safe or effective than the more expensive brand-name drug?

The short answer? No. 

For a generic drug to gain FDA approval and be sold in the U.S., it must meet all the same requirements as the sometimes pricier brand-name drugs. Generic birth control uses the same active ingredients as its brand-name counterpart. And, according to the FDA, the drug must be “created to be the same as an existing approved brand-name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, and performance characteristics.”

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The manufacturer must prove that the drugs are bioequivalent — meaning they act the same way in the body. The pharmaceutical company must also show that the medications are equally effective. 

The FDA conducts regular inspections to make sure manufacturers uphold the necessary standards to produce consistent results. They also monitor the products continually and investigate any reports of negative patient side effects.

Why Is the Generic Version Cheaper?

Generic birth control tends to be less expensive because the pharmaceutical companies only have to pay to manufacture the product — not to develop an entirely new drug. 

Research and development on a new medication can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. To recoup their costs, drug companies must aggressively promote new products when they bring them to market. When companies manufacture generic birth control, they generally don’t have to invest in R&D or expensive marketing and advertising programs. In turn, they pass those savings on to the consumer.

Generic birth control is also more likely to be covered by insurance than brand-name drugs. Insurance providers typically use a tiered pricing system that allows patients to see if their drugs are covered. Tier 1 drugs tend to be generic and are either completely covered or require the lowest co-pay. 

Can Generic Birth Control Cause Side Effects?

Because generic birth control contains the same active ingredients and brand-name birth control, any side effects are likely to be the same as what you’d experience from the branded version. 

The most common side effects reported with hormonal birth control, whether generic or name brand, are:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Period changes, including stopped or heavier periods
  • Slightly heightened migraine pain
  • Irregular bleeding and spotting between periods
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Vaginal discharge (non-odorous)
  • Weight gain (no more than 5 pounds) 

These effects typically subside after two to three months. If they don’t or you experience unexpected/adverse side effects of birth control pills, tell your local healthcare provider or send us a message and a member of our medical team can discuss your options.

Am I Better Off Choosing a Big Brand or Generic Birth Control?

While you might be able to name a few big birth-control brands, the reality is that there are many generic options available that are widely prescribed by doctors. In fact, the percentage of oral contraceptive prescriptions for generic drugs increased from 73 percent in 2010 to 82 percent in 2014.

If cost is a factor, it might be worth trying a generic birth control first. If you know you have a sensitivity to certain drug additives, read the list of inactive ingredients before taking a new medication. But in most cases, you won’t know how your body reacts to a specific contraceptive until you try it. Some of the inactive ingredients in a generic birth control could be different from the inactive ingredients in a brand name version, so even though both versions provide the same protection against pregnancy, you could experience slightly different side effects with one versus the other, but that is pretty unlikely.

Finding the right birth control can take some trial and error, but don’t let all the options intimidate you. We can help you find the birth control that works for your body so you can be worry-free and protected from unwanted pregnancy.

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