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Managing Your Monthly Cycle With Oral Contraceptives

Fed up with feeling bloated and cranky for one week out of four? Or maybe you just want to be sure that you won't get your period while you're on that fantastic (and expensive) Caribbean cruise!

Well, you don't have to be pregnant, breast feeding the baby until she's 3 or entering menopause to find out what it's like to be relieved of your monthly period. Ask your health professional about extended cycle oral contraceptives.

"A lot of research and experience has shown that women don't have to have periods at a designated rate as long as it's (the menstrual cycle) controlled with hormones," says Dr. Julie King, a fertility and hormone specialist at the Women's Medical Clinic in Medford.

Traditional birth control pills are packaged with 21 days of active pills that prevent ovulation and 7 days of placebo pills, to allow one week when ovulation and a woman's monthly flow occurs. Skipping the placebo week pills and continuing with a new pack of active pills means that a woman doesn't get a period.

Controlling the menstrual cycle is a matter of personal empowerment for many women. "I know a lot of women who have used birth control pills continuously for many years and are very happy not to have periods," Dr. King says.

"It's safe because instead of your hormones going up and down during the cycle as it does during the natural cycle," explains Dr. King, "the hormones are constant so the lining of the uterus doesn't build up."

Seasonale, an oral contraceptive approved by the FDA in 2003, is another way to change your menstrual cycle. Seasonale is an extended birth control pill, and was designed to suppress a woman's period for 12 weeks, and not suppress it during the 13th week. Women taking Seasonale menstruate once every three months, or once a season.

Traditional birth control pills came on the market in the 1960s and have been improved and refined over the years, giving medical researchers lots of data on the safety and side effects of hormonal birth control options. And new lower hormone oral contraceptives may help reduce some of the potential long-term risks.

There may in fact be some medical benefits to taking the pill. Dr. Alan Binette, Medford Obstetrician/Gynecologist says, "There are women who say my grandmother or great aunt had ovarian cancer and I don't want to be on a birth control pill," recalls Dr. Binette. "And I tell them that the evidence is quite the contrary. There is very good data that long-term suppression of the ovary reduces the risk of ovarian cancer."

Research reported by the Mayo Clinic also shows that traditional, continuous cycle or extended cycle birth control pills reduce menstrual migraines, painful menstruation and anemia and reduces the risk of endometriosis.

"Women who want to be on the pill, who are happy with hormonal contraception - the fact of fewer periods has an appeal," notes Dr. Binette. "It's a non-contraceptive benefit." And as Dr. King says, "It gives women power over their cycles."