Female oral contraceptive pills could alleviate menstrual cramps
16th August 2012
Oral contraceptive pills such as Dianette are taken by women for everyday for 21 days of their menstrual cycle, followed by a 7 day break when no pills are taken at all (also known as ‘cyclic treatment’). During this one week time period, women are still protected against unwanted pregnancies. In the 7 day rest period, hormone levels in the blood begin to decrease and women will experience a withdrawal bleed that is just like a normal period. Regardless of bleeding, the next pack of 21 tablets is begun after the week is up. However, some experts are now claiming that women could see health benefits from taking the oral contraceptive pills uninterrupted throughout the menstrual cycle instead of adhering to the usual 21 day block. Specifically, the scientists involved in the study into oral contraceptive pills, allege that this continuous usage can provide women with earlier relief from the symptoms of dysmenorrhea. Dysmenorrhea is one of the most gynaecologic complaints amongst younger women, with an estimated three quarters of them suffering from such problems and the term can basically be defined as ‘painful periods’. For roughly a fifth of women, the pains are so severe and unbearable that it can actually prevent them from going about their day to day activities. Dysmenorrhea happens during menstruation and is thought to occur because of three main reasons; unusual uterine contractions, more pressure on the pelvic region and a heightened sensitivity to pain. Dr Richard Legro, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Penn State College of Medicine, says, “Between 50 and 90 percent of women suffer from this condition, and it can really limit work, school, or athletic performance. Previous studies have estimated that dysmenorrhea accounts for 600 million lost work hours and $2 billion annually.” The women involved in Dr Legro’s study, were all experiencing inexplicable menstrual pain. This means that health experts could not pinpoint their pains to typical common problems such as ovarian cysts, endometriosis, any past surgical procedures, or other pelvic or bowel diseases. Dr Legro commented on the aims of his study and said, “Oral contraceptives are often prescribed to treat this condition (dysmenorrhea), since reducing menstruation is a relatively straightforward way to relieve this cramping. However, we wanted to determine whether there was a measurable difference between cyclic and continuous oral contraceptive treatment methods.” To judge the effects of a cyclic course of treatment vs. a continuous method of taking the contraceptive pills, Dr Legro split the female subjects into two groups and each group spent half a year on that particular therapy. After the evaluation, it was discovered that both groups had actually seen a decline in menstrual pain over this time. Interestingly though, the group assigned the continuous treatment, overall stated they had experienced substantial pain relief earlier on compared to the others. Despite the promising indications shown in this study, Medical Specialists Pharmacy do not advise women who are taking Dianette to make any alterations to the recommended course of treatment before consulting their own GP first. We believe further analysis is warranted to fully determine the risks and benefits involved with continuously taking oral contraceptive tablets.