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Midlife Women May Be Missing Out on Pill's Benefits

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Although more than 60% of the women polled said that they thought women needed to take breaks from the pill to give their bodies a rest, the truth is that extended use of low-dose pills is associated with even more preventive health benefits.

That's why 52-year-old Penelope M. Bosarge, RN, plans to stay on the pill until she reaches menopause. When her periods became much heavier at age 35, Bosarge went on low-dose oral contraceptives. After a brief time off of the pills, she decided to go back on them.

"The exciting part is that not only can I manage my bleeding, but I am getting noncontraceptive benefits as well," says Bosarge, who is concerned about developing osteoporosis because her mother has the disease.

Suzanne Trupin, MD, a veteran gynecologist, says she offers oral contraceptives to anyone who is a candidate for them and who needs contraceptive protection, relief from symptoms such as hot flashes, or relief from PMS. 'The pill' is also an option to help women with such conditions as fibroids, endometriosis, and adenomyosis.

Women with a history of ovarian cysts or with polycystic ovary syndrome or similar conditions can also benefit from the pill, Trupin tells WebMD. And women who have risk factors for cardiovascular disease may benefit from low-dose oral contraceptives because of the effects on blood-fat levels.

Trupin says that women with a family history of cancer of the uterus, ovary, and colon might lower their risks by taking oral contraceptives over an extended period. Trupin, who was not involved in the poll, is head of the Women's Health Practice in Champaign, Ill.

Women who should not take birth control pills include those with conditions such as undiagnosed genital bleeding, certain types of tumors, liver disease, or active blood clots, or those who are pregnant.

But for those women who are candidates for oral contraceptives, selecting a particular pill is an individual process. The lowest-dose birth control pill contains 20 micrograms of the hormone estrogen. This pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, and reduces the risk of most common pill side effects such as weight gain, nausea, and breast tenderness.

"Ask your doctor which pill formulation is right for you," Moore says.

 

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