Birth control pills for perimenopausal symptoms
|Generic Name||Brand Name|
|Very low-dose pills||Alesse, Loestrin 1/20, Mircette|
|Low-dose pills||Lo/Ovral, Seasonale, Yasmin|
|Phasic pills||Ortho-Novum 7/7/7, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, Triphasil|
|High-dose pills||Demulen 1/50, Ortho-Novum 1/50, Ovral|
How It Works
- Prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg every month (ovulation). This prevents pregnancy.
- Minimize growth of the uterine lining, called the endometrium. This reduces or stops dysfunctional uterine bleeding. (Thick endometrial growth leads to heavy bleeding.)
- May cause you to have fewer menstrual periods if taken continuously for a long period of time.
- May improve perimenopausal symptoms that are caused by fluctuating hormone levels.
Why It Is Used
Birth control pills are commonly used to:
- Stop a teen's irregular menstrual bleeding (dysfunctional uterine bleeding) and regulate her cycle.
- Regulate a perimenopausal woman's irregular periods (dysfunctional uterine bleeding).
- Regulate perimenopausal hormone levels, with the intention of reducing hormone-related symptoms while providing effective birth control.1, 2
- Regulate a woman's menstrual cycles that have been chronically irregular.
How Well It Works
The endocrine system, which produces hormones, is complex and not fully understood. Therefore, as with any hormone treatment, birth control pills do not reduce symptoms in all women. They cause troublesome side effects in some women, but not others. If you have problems with ineffectiveness or side effects, ask your health professional whether a different hormone formulation may work better.
Dysfunctional uterine bleeding. Birth control pills reduce the amount of heavy menstrual bleeding by about half.3
Perimenopausal symptoms. Birth control pills reduce or eliminate hot flashes and improve sleep problems and depression in most perimenopausal women, while effectively preventing pregnancy.2, 4 Studies report a range of 65% to 100% of women gaining partial to full relief from hot flashes when using birth control pills.2
Disease prevention. The estrogen in birth control pills maintains or improves bone density (osteoporosis prevention) during perimenopause, when bone loss begins to increase.2 Long-term use (4 or more years) of birth control pills helps preventendometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. Experts suspect that progestin is the protective factor.5
When you stop taking birth control pills, dysfunctional uterine bleeding or perimenopausal symptoms may return.
Side effects of birth control pills are generally the most severe during the first few months of use and then gradually subside. The most common side effects are:
- Breast tenderness.
Although some women report weight gain with birth control pill use, studies suggest that generally, long-term weight gain is not a common side effect.2
The risk of serious side effects increases in women who smoke.
Rare, but more serious, side effects include:
- High blood pressure .
- Blood clots in a vein (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (pulmonary embolism).
- Heart problems.
- A possible role in causing cervical cancer. Women who use birth control pills for more than 5 years and have HPV infection may have an increased risk.6
If you have serious side effects, call your doctor for immediate follow-up.
If you have bothersome side effects, report them to your doctor at your next regularly scheduled visit.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Do not use birth control pills if you:
- Are older than 35 and smoke, have complications from diabetes, or have an increased risk of heart disease.
- Have a personal history of breast cancer. Estrogen stimulates certain types of breast cancer.
- Have uncontrolled high blood pressure.
- Have liver disease.
- Have a history of blood clots in a vein (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (pulmonary embolism).
- Have a history of stroke.
For women older than 35, low-dose birth control pills are recommended. If you have no risk factors, such as a history of heart problems or stroke, you may use birth control pills until menopause is completed. Birth control pills are not recommended for use after menopause.
- Goldstein SR (2008). Abnormal uterine bleeding. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 664–671. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Kaunitz AM (2001). Oral contraceptive use in perimenopause. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 185(2, Suppl): S32–S37.
- Lobo RA (2007). Abnormal uterine bleeding: Ovulatory and anovulatory dysfunctional uterine bleeding, management of acute and chronic excessive bleeding. In VL Katz et al., eds., Comprehensive Gynecology, 5th ed., pp. 915–931. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
- Rapkin AJ, et al. (2002). The clinical nature and formal diagnosis of premenstrual, postpartum, and perimenopausal affective disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 4(6): 419–428.
- Fraser IS, Kovacs GT (2003). The efficacy of non-contraceptive uses of hormonal contraceptives. Medical Journal of Australia, 178(12): 621–623.
- Moreno V, et al. (2002). Effect of oral contraceptives on risk of cervical cancer in women with human papillomavirus infection: The IARC muticentric case-control study. Lancet, 359(9312): 1085–1092.
Last Updated: March 9, 2010
Author: Kathe Gallagher, MSW & Debby Golonka, MPH