November 22, 2017
Hormonal Contraceptives to Eliminate Periods?

Hormonal Contraceptives to Eliminate Periods?

by Jeanine Barone  

Some women can use oral contraceptives or other forms of hormonal birth control (such as a patch, insertable ring, or injection) to eliminate regular periods altogether or reduce the number of periods they experience annually. This is done by taking the "active" (hormone-containing) pills continuously, without the usual week of inactive pills (sometimes called "sugar pills") each month that results in bleeding.

Research has shown that suppressing regular periods this way is safe. There's no accumulation of menstrual blood, because contraceptive use suppresses ovulation, which keeps the uterine lining from building up. (The menstrual bleeding women get while on birth control pills isn't actually uterine lining being shed and thus not a true "period"—it’s withdrawal bleeding from the cessation of hormones during the placebo week. The uterine lining will build back up again if you go off the pill to become pregnant.)

Several brands of pills are marketed specifically for extended use, but if you're already taking one you're happy with (especially if it’s a low-cost generic), talk with your doctor about whether you could just stay on the same pill and skip the inactive pills in each pack. (Your doctor will need to write a prescription for more than 12 packs per year in that case.)

While hormonal contraceptives are safe for most women, those that contain estrogen are unsafe for certain women and should be avoided. That includes women who smoke, which can increase their risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke if they take the pill, especially after age 35. (Pills that contain progesterone only are fine for women in these groups.) Women who have certain other conditions, including high blood pressure, heart valve disease, certain blood clotting disorders, or multiple risk factors for heart disease, should talk with their doctors about the benefits and risks of using hormonal contraceptives.