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Women's Health

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Women Unaware of Options for Fewer Periods

Few Women Know That Birth Control Pills Safely Suppress Menstrual Cycles

WebMD Health News

Nov. 19, 2004 -- For many women, the idea of having a menstrual period just four times a year sounds like body bliss. But surprisingly, a new study shows that despite the onslaught of recent ads about extended oral contraception use to suppress periods, most female patients have never been told that they can safely use this method to skip their menstrual cycles.

Last year, the FDA approved Seasonale® the first birth control drug designed to reduce the number of yearly periods from 13 to four. The extended-regimen pill contains the same low-dose hormones found in traditional birth control pills.

In a national multicenter study, researchers from the University of Florida surveyed 1, 470 women and 512 health care providers and found that 73% of women had never heard of menstrual suppression with birth control pills. Eight out of 10 doctors, however, 90% of whom were females, were well aware of the option, co-author Andrew M. Kaunitz, MD, a professor at the UF Health Science Center Jacksonville, said in a news release.

The findings come from the journal Contraception.

There has been hearty debate regarding whether or not a woman really needs to have a period every month. Advocates say monthly periods may not be necessary and may even pose some health risk such as anemia, endometriosis, and dysmenorrheal, write the authors. Opponents say menstruation is a natural process that shouldn't be interfered with or treated like a disease.

Kaunitz and colleagues found that half of the women surveyed believe a monthly period is necessary, compared with just 7% of health care providers. The researchers caution, however, that the providers were specialists in reproductive health.

The differences in awareness about menstrual suppression indicate "that health care providers need to inform their patients about this option," the researchers wrote in the journal report.

Other findings include:

  • 59% of women said they would be interested in not having menstruation every month.
  • One-third would choose never to have a period.
  • Most women are interested in changing their menstrual patterns.
  • 57% of health care providers said their patients do not ask about extended-regiment birth control pills.
  • 52% of health care providers prescribe extended-regiment birth control pills.
  • 62% of women only used birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.
  • 44% of health care providers say menstrual suppression is a good idea.
  • 22% of health care providers say menstrual suppression harms a woman's health.

The researchers say that both women and health care providers thought that more research should be conducted on suppression of periods with birth control pills.

The study was sponsored by in part by Barr Laboratories, which manufactures Seasonale®.

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