New News on The Pill

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Over the past few years, we have been bombarded with information regarding the trials and tribulations of various hormone therapies. If you’re wondering why, there is a multi-million dollar, 15-year project being conducted that is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). In case you haven’t been in the hormone therapy loop, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) is a clinical trial and long-term observational study that focuses on women between the ages of 50 and 79. If you are interested in how the WHI is being conducted. This website thoroughly explains the three components of WHI consisting of: 1) A randomized clinical trial 2) An observational study and 3) A community prevention study.

The WHI raised some concerns about using hormones after menopause. But recent studies from the WHI found postmenopausal benefits attributed to premenopausal use of oral contraceptives. The latest news was presented at the October 20, 2004 annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The information was received from 67,000 of the 162,000 postmenopausal women who participated in the WHI and were former users of oral contraceptives According to the NHLBI report, oral contraceptives lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease (CAD) and other heart-related problems. Although more biological investigations need to be conducted, the key to understanding this study is considering the types of hormones used in oral contraceptives and the stage of life in which they’re used. Delineating these facts will provide greater insight into why they appear helpful at one point in life and potentially harmful at another.

About 16 million American women take birth control pills and hundreds of millions have used them since the first one went on the market in 1960. Most oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) combine forms of estrogen and progestin in various doses that are lower than the oral contraceptives women took decades ago). Three of the most common types of birth control pills are 1) Progestin-only pills 2) Combined oral contraceptives and 3) Emergency contraceptive pills (higher dose estrogen and progesterone pills for only a few days duration). For more information on how birth control pills work and details of the most common types of birth control pills, go to the National Women’s Health Resource website: healthywomen.org.

Oral contraceptive pills are also a commonly used to treat perimenopausal women. Perimenopausal symptoms are usually the same as those of menopause and typically begin in a woman’s forties but can begin as early as her thirties. According to Minkin and Giblin, 2004, perimenopausal women are candidates for OCP therapy when the following criteria are met:

  • If she is having heavy or prolonged periods, or menses that are too close together
  • If she is amenable to oral contraceptives
  • Is a non-smoker
  • Is not significantly hypertensive
  • Especially if she still needs contraception

However, if you are having your period at least every 20 days and are not uncomfortable but merely want reassurance that it is safe to bleed that often, no intervention is needed. OCPs also appear to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer *.

Choosing an oral contraceptive should be thoroughly discussed with your healthcare provider prior to any definitive decisions. If you are thinking about using OCPs, you need to be assured that the regimen selected is best for you prior to beginning this or any other treatment. Length of therapy will vary from woman to woman so customizing your plan with your doctor is essential to the success of this and any treatment.

* Results from oral contraceptive studies have consistently found that the longer a woman uses them, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer (Cancer and Steroid Hormone Study, 1987, Harvard Medical School, 1992, etc.).

References:

Minkin, M. J., and Giblin, K. L., 2004, Manual of Management Counseling for the Perimenopausal and Menopausal Patient: Parthenon Publishing, New York, pp. 13-15.

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