Uses of Birth Control Pills Beyond Contraception

More than 80% of American women will use Birth Control Pills or other hormonal contraception during their lives.  Many of these women are using this medication for uses beyond preventing pregnancy. The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) can be used to correct menstrual cycle irregularities to help make the period more predictable.  Other common uses and benefits of OCPs are listed here.

  • Regulate the menstrual cycle
  • Treat heavy period bleeding
  • Treat painful periods
  • Better control of the cycle
  • Treatment of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Prevent menstrual migraine headaches
  • Decrease the risk of some cancers (uterine, ovarian, colon)
  • Treat acne
  • Improve bone mineral density (BMD)
  • Treat heavy bleeding due to fibroids
  • Treat pelvic pain due to endometriosis

Most birth control combines a progestin hormone for the contraceptive effect and estrogen hormone to prevent spotting.  Over the years the dose of the estrogen in today’s OCP has decreased dramatically without lowering their effect. Additionally the option to get the hormonal benefit through alternative formulations such as a patch or ring has increased the convenience of this treatment.  

Using a birth control pill, patch, ring or other hormonal option becomes a reasonable option for many women with heavy period bleeding.  These women may use medication to avoid having to undergo surgery. Long-standing heavy periods may reduce the blood count to dangerous levels.  Under the guidance of an experienced OBGYN, OCPs can be used temporarily instead of surgery for the women who desire future pregnancy.  It is important to know that the effect of birth control pills is reversible and once stopped they do not prevent pregnancy.

As mentioned above, painful periods or dysmenorrhea can be treated with birth control pills.  Up to 90% of young women report some dysmenorrhea and treatment with OCPs can help reduce pain in up to 70-80% of women.  This benefit is also seen in the progesterone only options such as the intrauterine device (IUD) or depo progestin injection.  

Although birth control pills are not routinely prescribed to reduce the risk of cancer, it is a known benefit for certain types of cancer.  Studies have shown a 50% reduction in uterine cancer for those women who have used OCPs. This effect is highest with the IUD since it is placed within the uterus where the progesterone hormone effect lowers the lifetime risk of uterine cancer.  A similar effect of OCP to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer has been reported. Every 5 years of use may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by approximately 20%. OCP use may also reduce the risk of colon cancer by up to 18% as suggested by some reports.

 


Sources:

ACOG Practice Bulletin, Number 110, January 2010 – “Noncontraceptive Uses of Hormonal Contraceptives”

 

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