New Oral Contraceptive May End Periods
Lybrel Designed for Continuous, Year-Round Contraception
Dec. 13, 2006 -- Menstrual periods may soon be just another lifestyle choice
for American women.
The continuous oral contraceptive Lybrel was shown to be highly effective
for eliminating monthly bleeding in a yearlong study.
The study was published in the December issue of the journal
After a year on the pill, roughly 60% of the women in the study experienced
no periods and 20% had some spotting.
Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, which funded the study, hopes to launch the low-dose
oral contraceptive early next year, pending approval by the FDA. Wyeth is a
Choosing Not to Have Periods
control pills designed to limit uterine bleeding to just four times
a year are already on the market in the U.S. But Lybrel is the first oral
contraceptive designed to do away with periods.
"There just is no good medical reason for a woman to have menstrual
periods if she doesn't want them," gynecologist and study researcher David
F. Archer, MD, tells WebMD. "It really does come down to an issue of
That hasn't always been the case. When they came on the market in the early
1960s, all oral contraceptive regimens included 21 days on active hormones and
seven days off each month to imitate a 28-day monthly cycle, complete with
Before the age of accurate at-home pregnancy tests, monthly
periods reassured women on the pill that they were not pregnant.
Women taking oral contraceptives have what is called withdrawal bleeding
during the seven days they are off active hormones.
Women on Lybrel get continuous hormones -- without days off the active pills
-- so they should have little or no uterine bleeding.
In the newly reported study, 2,134 women between the ages of 18 and 49 took
the low-dose oral contraceptive for a year to 18 months.
After a month on the birth control pill, 94% of the women in the study still
experienced uterine bleeding, with or without spotting.
The number of bleeding and spotting days per month decreased steadily with
increased duration of use of the birth control pill. However, 21% of the women
in the study were still bleeding after a year on the pill.
The researchers say that the effectiveness of the continuous oral
contraceptive was similar to that of a traditional 21-day regimen. They add
that the continuous pill also demonstrated a good safety profile.
Archer acknowledges, however, that the long-term safety of continuous
contraception remains unknown.
The biggest concern has been that continuous hormone treatment could
increase the risk of breast cancer, but
he says there is no evidence to back this up.
Gynecologist Anita L. Nelson, MD, tells WebMD that continuous low-dose oral
contraception will be a welcome addition to the limited amount of highly
effective birth control options.
Eliminating periods with continuous oral contraceptives has been shown to be
an effective treatment for many reproductive-related health problems, including
endometriosis, as well as
possibly reducing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
But all women seeking birth control can benefit from having more control
over their bodies, Nelson says.
Nelson is a professor of ob-gyn at the David Geffen School of Medicine at
the University of California, Los Angeles.
"I don't mean to denigrate women on oral contraceptives who, for
whatever reason, want to continue to have withdrawal bleeding," she says.
"But women need to realize that there is no health benefit to this and
there may be a significant downside."