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No more pain, just gain
New pill allows women to reduce number of periods
by Yuki Ohashi, Associate Science & Environment editor

For many women, monthly periods are painful part of life. Researchers at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk may change that.

They are testing a new pill, called “Seasonale,” which provides women with contraceptive protection for nearly three months, according to recent ABC-TV news report. That means women will have only four periods a year.

Researchers say that Seasonale will go on sale early next year. But, how does it work, and how safe is it?

A typical woman of childbearing age has a menstrual cycle of around 28 days, determined by the cascades of hormones released by her ovaries, according to a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell. When a combination of estrogen and progestin flood the uterus, its lining becomes thick and swollen, preparing it for the implantation of a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, hormone levels plunge and cause the lining–the endometrium–to be sloughed off in a menstrual bleed.

However, when a woman is on Seasonale, no egg is released because it suppresses ovulation. Because it slows down the ovaries, the fluxes of estrogen and progestin that cause the lining of the uterus to grow is dramatically reduced.

Practically, Seasonale is identical to standard contraceptive pills, which contain a combination of female hormones, such as estrogen, the hormone responsible for holding the uterine lining together, and progestin that inhibits the release if eggs from the ovaries. However, it has different packaging. With seasonale, a woman takes the pills daily for 84 days without break. Then she takes daily placebo pills for seven days. These create a short interruption in hormone levels that allows an immature egg to discend and to be discarded with reduced bleeding.

“It will not harm the chance of women becoming pregnant if they stop taking it,” said John Guillebaud, a medical director at the Margarete Pyke Health Center in London. “It doesn’t seem to have a long-term effect on the ovaries or pituitary gland. Those are effectively put to sleep, the same as when a woman is pregnant. Then they bounce back,” he added.

So, will women use Seasonale?

A Dutch study found 70 percent of women between ages 15 and 50 would prefer to have their periods less frequently.

“An estimated 25 percent of women take birth control pills for their non-contraceptive benefits,” said Michael Randell, a gynecologist at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. The pills decrease PMS symptoms, such as migraine headaches, bloating, and irritability.

Seasonale has been developed and tested since 2000 and is expected to be commercially available in 2003. Obviously, more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of extended usage of the pill. However, it seems to help women who suffer tremendously from menstrual pain.



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