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 liningthe
endometriumto 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
doesnt 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,
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.