Disappearing periods

No more PMS! No more bloating! Drug companies are exploring new methods to ban Aunt Flow from ever coming to town.

Sarah Elizabeth Richards
May 23, 2006 1:18AM (UTC)

The Associated Press reports some of the best news to anyone who has ever popped ibuprofen or clutched a heating pad for cramps. The period may be so over. That's right. Drug firms already have figured out how to use contraceptives to lessen menstrual blood flow or reduce that time of the month to four times a year. And a growing number of women, especially teenage girls and women approaching menopause, are using birth control pills or hormonal contraceptives without pause to block their periods. Now, several pharmaceutical companies are waiting for Food and Drug Administration approval of low-dose, continuous contraceptives, which would dramatically decrease or eliminate the period altogether. (Wyeth hopes to have the birth control pill Lybrel on the market by June; that's also the estimated decision date of Organon's Implanon, an implant that lasts three years and has been sold in Europe for more than a decade.

"If you're choosing contraception, then there's not a lot of point to having periods," Leslie Miller, a University of Washington at Seattle researcher and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology tells the Associated Press. (Her site NoPeriod.com has more info.) Traditional pills mimic the regular cycle by giving women a break from the hormone progestin for one week a month, causing them to experience withdrawal bleeding -- but they're not considered "real" periods. Two national surveys found at least 20 percent of women have played around with their dosage schedules to stop or skip periods, say, for a sporting event, wedding or vacation. So this seems like a natural next step, she argues.


According to Miller, we're expected to have some 450 periods in our lifetimes. That's nine times more cycles than our great-grandmothers had on average! (Apparently, they got to skip a few by starting later in life and having and breast-feeding so many kids.) I certainly wouldn't mind missing a few. The AP quotes New York University historian Linda Gordon as urging caution because of the lack of research on exposure to continuous hormones. And there are the usual warnings about the increased risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots associated with the standard pill -- balanced against the decreased chance of some cancers. (See conservatives' litany of other problems with contraceptives.)

But will we miss them? Gordon doesn't think so. She calls the period "way over-romanticized," adding that "it doesn't take long for women to go from being excited about having a period to feeling it's a pain in the neck."

Who knows? Whatever the case, this is an awesome option!

Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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