Alternative uses of the pill

The pill is more than just contraception - here's what else it can do.

The contraceptive pill is primarily used to prevent pregnancy, however, every day, thousands of doctors worldwide prescribe the pill for other purposes. So much of our body is governed by hormones, so a pill that alters these hormone levels has some side effects. Fortunately, many of these side effects can be really beneficial to your health.

Period Pain

Period pains are caused by the womb contracting as it tries to shed the lining (endometrium) during your period. Most contractions are mild, and you won't even feel them, but some are more severe. If the womb contracts too much, it can temporarily cut off your blood supply to the womb, which can cause painful cramping. In addition, the lining of the womb also contains chemicals called prostaglandins. These are released as the endometrium breaks down. Prostaglandins cause the womb to contract further, which can worsen the cramping pains.

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The combined oral contraceptive pill contains synthetic versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progestogen. By artificially modulating these hormones' levels, the lining of the womb will not be as thick, so your periods should get lighter. By reducing the endometrium thickness, there will be fewer prostaglandins released and the womb won't need to contract so much during your period, so the pain should be reduced.

 

Fainting

Many women have had to take time off work or school due to their period's side effects. For some, their period pains are so severe that they have to stay at home, for others, the side effects can be different. Fainting and migraines are common side effects of periods, particularly in younger women.

Fainting during your period can be caused by several factors. Prostaglandins can cause vasodilation (temporary widening of the blood vessels). This can lead to a decrease in blood pressure, which limits the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain. Your brain is very sensitive to oxygen levels, so it may cause you to faint to restore the blood flow and oxygen levels it needs. If you're also anaemic, your blood cannot carry as much oxygen, so you are more likely to faint during your period.

The vagus nerve is involved in regulating your blood pressure. The cramping of the womb during your period, as well as the release of prostaglandins, can overstimulate this nerve, leading to lightheadedness and fainting. The fluctuations of your hormone levels during your period can also cause a brief period of low blood sugar, even if you are not diabetic. This can also contribute towards overstimulation of the vagus nerve causing fainting (vasovagal syncope). Ensuring you avoid high sugar foods, and eating carbohydrates that release their energy slowly, may help you maintain a more stable blood sugar level. It's also a good idea to ensure you eat three meals a day and have a cereal bar or snack to hand if you need it.

Release of too many prostaglandins can also lead to other period side effects such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, etc. As the contraceptive pill reduces the thickness of the lining of the womb, it also reduces the number of prostaglandins released, so should help alleviate these unpleasant symptoms of your period.

 

Migraines

60% of women who get migraines have migraines related to their menstrual cycle. During your menstrual cycle, your oestrogen levels can fluctuate and drop rapidly. This drop is thought to trigger migraines in many women. The contraceptive pill can help maintain a higher level of oestrogen, so it won't vary quite as much. Therefore the pill can help you avoid menstrual migraines.

 

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue like the lining of the womb (endometrium) grows outside of the womb. This outside tissue will respond to hormonal changes much like the lining of the womb, but it doesn't always pass out the body in the same way. This can lead to a lot of pain, as well as heavier periods. As the pill, reduced the thickness of the endometrium, it will also reduce the build-up of endometrial tissues outside the womb and should help to reduce the pain associated with endometriosis.

 

Anaemia

Iron-deficiency anaemia is a condition in which you have a very low level of iron in your blood. Iron is important, as it helps your body transport oxygen in the blood. Iron-deficiency is common in young women and is often related to heavy periods. During your period, you lose blood, which reduces the iron levels in your body. Your body usually is able to replace this lost iron, but if your periods are particularly heavy, you may lose more iron than you can replace through food. Therefore, you may need to take iron supplements to replace the lost iron. The pill often makes your periods lighter. As iron-deficiency is related to heavy periods, the pill can be a useful tool to reduce your chances of becoming anaemic and to help your body recover if you are anaemic.

 

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic-Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is related to hormonal imbalances in the body. These imbalances can lead to irregular periods, acne, ovarian cysts, excess body hair and even infertility. The pill artificially increases your levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progestogen, therefore the pill can help you regulate your hormone levels, reducing the symptoms of PCOS.

 

Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the name given to the time just before menopause. During this time, hormones levels can be very unstable, leading to irregular periods, night sweats and hot flushes. Low-dose birth control pills contain lower levels of hormones than typical contraceptive pills. These lower levels can help you regulate your hormone levels, without increasing your hormone levels too much. This should help to reduce the symptoms of perimenopause. After you have reached menopause, your hormones should settle, and you will no longer need to take the contraceptive pill. Depending upon your symptoms, a doctor may recommend that you consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but this is not necessary for every woman. It is worth keeping in mind that smokers and women who have had breast cancer, liver disease, high blood pressure or blood clots, should not take the pill, but your doctor may be able to help you out with alternative treatments.

 

PMS

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to the physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the week before your period. The existence of emotional symptoms of PMS is controversial. However, many women do report mood changes before their period. This can include being more emotional, feeling more irritable and even feeling depressed. These emotional changes can have a big impact on many women and their families' quality of life. PMS is thought to be related to the changing hormone levels just before your period. Therefore, the pill can be a great way to help you modulate these hormone levels, reducing PMS symptoms.

 

Period Delay

You can also use the pill to delay your period. Many women choose to delay their period for holidays, weddings, trips, sports and other special events. Sometimes having your period can be inconvenient, especially if you have any other unpleasant side effects to deal with too i.e. period pains, fainting etc. You should let your doctor know if you are intending to use the pill for period delay. If you are already taking the pill, they should be able to speak to you over the phone about this, but if you are not taking the pill already, you will have to go in for an appointment. Delaying your period with the pill usually involves taking two or more contraceptive pill packets back to back, so you skip the days-off during which you would usually have your period. Some contraceptive pills contain placebos, and your doctor will be able to let you know which ones you should miss out. Some pills, such as the mini-pill are less suited to period delay, so your doctor may recommend you take a different approach either by switching pills or taking another medication such as Norethisterone to delay your period.

View our full range of contraceptive pills.

 

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/features/other-reasons-to-take-the-pill#1

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/period-pains-women-productivity-work-bbc-radio-5-live-survey-a7324536.html

http://uk.businessinsider.com/why-you-always-feel-sick-during-your-period-2018-1?r=US&IR=T

https://www.quora.com/What-causes-me-to-faint-during-my-period/answer/Dr-Felix-1

https://www.drfelix.co.uk/health-center/why-do-i-faint-during-my-period/

https://www.verywellhealth.com/reasons-for-fainting-during-period-4107096

https://www.everydayhealth.com/menopause/using-the-pill-to-treat-menopause.aspx

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