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No Periods, No Pain?

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Still another of these new pills claims to clear up acne, and a clinical study has been done to prove it. But gynecologists say that all birth control pills help with acne. "It's just a matter of to what extent and how effective the different pill formulas are," Lane Mercer, MD, tells WebMD. He is a professor of gynecology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

Also among the so-called third-generation pills are those with varying forms of the hormone progestin. Pharmacologists are now trying to develop a true natural female progestin, not a synthetic derivative of the male hormone testosterone, as progestin traditionally has been, Mercer says. "It promises less of side effects like weight gain, depression, PMS symptoms," he says.

The makers of a pill called Seasonale would like to go a bit further in their claims. Last year, a large clinical trial was launched to test Seasonale, which gives women the option of "seasonal" periods -- one every three months. A woman takes the pills daily for 81 days, then is off them for seven days. "We're interested in quality of life. We want to show that it can relieve menstrual migraines and other PMS symptoms," says F.D. Anderson, MD, the trial's principal researcher and an associate professor of gynecology at the Jones Institute at Eastern Virginia Medical Center in Norfolk.

The truth is, gynecologists have long experimented with the monthly cycle. Is a honeymoon or a vacation approaching? A period need not ruin your plans! Toss away those placebo pills and jump to the next pack of "active" pills, gynecologists have often advised patients.

"We've been doing it for years and years," Anderson tells WebMD. "It's just not been studied. "

And delaying the period is very safe, Randell tells WebMD. "The new pills make it even safer."

"Frankly, I would like to see all pills packaged with only two or three days of placebo," Hatcher tells WebMD. Pregnancy prevention is his reason. Miss the first day in a standard pack -- where you've already been pill-free for seven days -- and you sorely test the system, says Hatcher, co-author of the book Contraceptive Technology. "Your chances of pregnancy go way up." But miss the first pill after two or three days off, and not so much is at stake.

For many years now, doctors also have been able to completely halt a woman's periods, which Hatcher says is "perfectly safe." Products are available that can do just that, including Depo-Provera, an injected contraceptive that requires shots every three months, and Norplant, which consists of six timed-release capsules that are implanted in the upper arm. Norplant works consistently for approximately five years.

"To have a period is more of a sociological issue," Mercer says. "Women want periods to know they are not pregnant. What we really don't know is the effect on future fertility. Any woman who has taken the pill has half the pregnancy rate at six months [after going off the pill] as one who has never taken it. We don't know if this is going to change with the newer combinations, such as Seasonale.

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