Birth Control Pill May Relieve PMS Depression

Study Shows Oral Contraceptives May Help Curb Mood Swings From Premenstrual Syndrome

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 25, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

May 25, 2005 (Atlanta) -- Many women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) mood problems worry that birth control pills may increase their sensitivity to hormonal changes that make them feel down and out. Now researchers say the opposite may actually be true.

A study suggests taking oral contraceptives for as little as two months can curb PMS-related depression -- even in women not getting relief from standard antidepressant medications.

"Many women fear that the birth control pill can make you depressed, but we found it's actually helpful," says researcher Hadine Joffe, MD, director of endocrine studies in the perinatal and reproductive psychiatry clinical research program at Harvard Medical School.

That's an "important finding," says Jovita Crasta, MD, chief of community psychiatry at South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y.

"Even one small study that shows that hormones will not cause depression will help women to stay on their birth control," she tells WebMD.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The study included 17 women who were experiencing bouts of depression in the weeks prior to their menstrual period -- the time of PMS, in other words. The women had been on antidepressant medications for at least two months prior to the study's start, and none suffered from depression outside of PMS.

All the women were put on the Yasmin birth control pill, which consists of three weeks of an estrogen-progestin hormone preparation, followed by one week of a placebo pill. Some of the women were given estrogen alone during this time.

After two months, depression scores on a standardized test had dropped an average of 80% and PMS scores had fallen by about 40%, she says.

Giving the women extra estrogen in the final week didn't make a difference one way or the other, Joffe says.

She suspects that the birth control pill made the hormone levels in the brain more stable.

"Normally, hormones levels go up and down, up and down," she tells WebMD, "and that's thought to cause the mood swings and depression of PMS. "Being on the birth control pill stops the fluctuation."

Show Sources

SOURCES: American Psychiatric Association 2005 Annual Meeting, Atlanta, May 21-26, 2005. Hadine Joffe, MD, director of endocrine studies in the perinatal and reproductive psychiatry clinical research program, Harvard Medical School. Jovita Crasta, MD, chief of community psychiatry, South Nassau Hospital, Oceanside, N.Y.

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