Karen Manser hated her periods. "I just had a horrible time. They made me miserable. Sometimes I would lay curled up like a little ball in the bed in pain." So she did something drastic: she stopped her periods cold. At 44, she hasn't menstruated in 10 years.
Now, women are quickly catching on to what Manser has known for a long time: Menstruation is becoming another lifestyle choice.
The birth control pill was a big hit when it went on sale in the early 1960s. Nearly 50 years later, it's still one of the most popular methods of reversible birth control, with dozens of brands and formulations available.
Yet, half-truths and misconceptions about the birth control pill persist, among them that this method of contraception leads to weight gain.
Manser, who lives in Washington, first opted out of periods with Depo-Provera, an injectable hormonal contraceptive. Then with her gynecologist's approval, she began taking birth control pills continuously, without the placebo break, to suppress periods.
"Life is more convenient," she says. "You can go on vacation and not worry about it. You can wear white clothes and not worry about it. It's just wonderful."
But is it a good thing to banish periods?
The Era of Optional Periods
In past decades, doctors have used birth control, sometimes in unorthodox ways, to help certain patients suppress periods. But the optional period entered a new era in 2003. That year, Barr Pharmaceuticals launched Seasonale, the first FDA-approved, extended-cycle birth control pill designed to give women only four periods a year. The company has also released Seasonique, a second-generation drug that also advertises four periods annually.
Women may soon be able to stop periods even longer. If the FDA approves, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' Lybrel would be the first continuous birth control pill to stop periods for one year. The experimental low-dose contraceptive contains estrogen and progestin.
But menstrual suppression, as experts call it, is a hot-button issue. Manser says that women are often baffled and alarmed when they find out she's not menstruating. "They're kind of horrified. It's like, 'You have to have periods because you have to shed your lining. This is terrible for you.'"
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists takes no official position on menstrual suppression. But several doctors talked to WebMD about the pros and cons of eliminating periods.
What Do Doctors Say?
That first menstrual period may be cause for celebration at sixth-grade slumber parties. But for many women, the thrill fades fast when they're beset with monthly bouts of pain, discomfort, bloating, crankiness, and the blues. Some women are so debilitated that they miss work or school.