By: Maayan S. Heller for Uterus1
A new trend is growing in women’s health: Shorter, or even non-existent periods are in.
According to many doctors, more and more women are using birth control pills or other contraception to manipulate their menstrual cycles, and for many, it seems the reason is simply the hassle of their periods.
|Managing Your Menstrual Cycle|
Keep a calendar and mark the first day of your period each month. This is helpful for predicting your next period, and it’s important to know the date of your last menstrual period for doctor’s appointments or if you’re trying to get pregnant.
Regular exercise improves blood flow and can help to reduce PMS, cramping and other pain during your period.
Eat healthy. Your diet can influence symptoms, duration and heaviness of a period.
Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both can have dramatic affects on your cycle.
Reduce stress. Painful symptoms can be amplified and multiplied by increased stress.
Nonprescription pain relievers can be helpful in reducing some symptoms, like cramping and headaches.
Cramps can be the worst! To help relieve cramps:
Use a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen or take a warm bath – heat improves blood flow and can reduce the pain.
Lie down and elevate your legs, or lie on your side, pulling your knees into your chest. Both of these can relieve pain and pressure on your back.
Sex! – Believe it or not, sexual activity can relieve pelvic cramping and pain in your back.
Try pads instead of tampons. This can reduce pressure on your abdomen.
“With hormonal manipulation, it is safe to plan periods for a more convenient time or not at all,” says Maura Quinlan, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago.
This spring, a Web survey commissioned by Warner Chilcott, a pharmaceutical company specializing in women’s healthcare and dermatology, found that 78 percent of women between 18 and 49 rank their period among the top five most annoying things in their lives. The list of irritants to rank included gaining weight, having a bad boss, commuting to and from work and arguing with a significant other. Additionally, more than two-thirds of the women surveyed in that age range said they wished they had a shorter period.
The plight of these women has not gone unnoticed. Multiple birth control options are available for women who want to control when they have their periods, how long they have their periods, and even if they have their periods at all.
“The period during birth control pills is totally artificial,” says Dr. Quinlan, explaining that birth control pills give steady doses of hormones, and the period from the pill is just a week without hormones. “So, choosing when that week will occur, if at all, is entirely safe and up to the woman. It is fine to just continue on the low dose of hormones, and there will often be minimal bleeding.”
Skipping the placebo week on the traditional contraceptive pill is a common and long-used practice. In fact, as long as there’s been a pill since 1960, women have manipulated their cycles to skip their periods for vacations, weddings and other events. Furthermore, many female doctors were themselves among the first to adjust their periods to fit with busy schedules.
“Controlling periods is something that is very common, and that I have been doing for years – for myself and my patients,” said Dr. Quinlan.
And while many women like the idea of eliminating the nuisance of their periods, this kind of control can also be very helpful. Women who suffer terrible pain with their periods are just some who appreciate the relief.
“It can be very freeing for many women, like those who have trouble with their periods during their athletic season (like for swimmers), or families with women with significant disabilities, for whom the hygiene issues with menses can be a challenge,” added Dr. Quinlan.
But ad-hoc period control isn’t the only way, as companies are offering increasingly more options in contraceptives that reduce the length and frequency of periods.
Barr Pharmaceuticals put out Seasonale in November 2003, an oral birth control similar to the typical pill, but taken for 12 weeks straight, with a break for withdrawal bleeding every three months. Women on Seasonale only have their period four times a year.
In February 2006, the FDA approved Loestrin 24. Warner Chilcott’s “short period” pill offers periods lasting an average of three days or less.
The only extended-regimen pill was just approved by the FDA in May 2006. Duramed’s (a subsidiary of Barr) Seasonique works like Seasonale, except that instead of a placebo, every three months you get a low-dose estrogen week. Seasonique is still awaiting final approval by the FDA.
The first continuous-use pill, Wyeth Pharmaceutical’s Lybrel, will likely appear in the U.S. soon, and is also on the docket to receive approval in Canada and Europe. And other drug companies are quickly joining in, finding different ways to control or put an end to the period.
While women have been manipulating their periods without significant problems for years, doctors still urge women to proceed with caution and consult their physicians.
“[Hormonal manipulation] is safe when hormones are used,” explains Dr. Quinlan. “But women who have only a few periods a year naturally need to have a gynecologist evaluate them.”
Dr. Quinlan says there are few side effects with choosing the timing of the period this way, adding that the main problem is that some women experience spotting while taking the pill for weeks at a time.
Overall, the news is good: whether it causes other health concerns or is simply an annoying disruption, it is becoming easier and more acceptable for women to take control of their periods. Period.