What are Birth Control Pills?
A woman’s menstrual cycle or period is the cycle of natural changes that occurs in her uterus and ovaries and it is an essential part of the process of sexual reproduction. The menstrual cycle will occur repeatedly throughout a woman’s fertile years which begin with menarche and ends with menopause.
Importance of Regular Periods
The timing of the menstrual cycle as well as its duration depends on the woman’s endogenous biological cycles. These cycles are regulated by several hormones and it is the hormone estrogen that is responsible for keeping a woman’s menstrual periods regular. This hormonal balance also helps in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones. Women who have regular menstrual cycles also have fewer problems conceiving and are less likely to experience pregnancy and labor problems. Research on the relationship between menstrual cycles and the risk of cardiac disease has shown that women who have regular menstrual cycles are at a lower risk of heart disease as compared to other women. As of now, the exact reasons for this are unclear but it is believed that the hormones progesterone and estradiol that are produced during the menstrual cycle change the levels of good and bad cholesterol in the woman’s bloodstream.
Types of Oral Contraceptives
There are two main types of Oral Contraceptives – the progestin-only pill and the combined oral contraceptive pill. Each of these birth control pills contain synthetic versions of the hormones that occur naturally in women and by manipulating these hormonal levels, they work to prevent pregnancy.
The Progestogen-only Pill
Progestogen-only pills are sometimes called "Progesterone-Only Pills" even though they do not contain progesterone but Progestogen, which is a chemically related synthetic compound. These birth control pills need to be taken at the same time on a daily basis in order to be effective but if they are used correctly, they are 99.7 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
The combined oral contraceptive Pill
The combined pill contains synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The combined pill comes in fixed dose combinations or in doses that vary throughout the cycle and they are available as 21-day and 28-day packs. Doctors sometimes recommend that women who suffer from migraines refrain from consuming these pills as the estrogen they contain could trigger a migraine. When they are used correctly, the combined pill is 99.7 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
Short-term Benefits of Delaying your Period
There could be several reasons to delay your period ranging from social requirements to medical reasons. So, can the pill delay your period? – The simple answer is yes, the pill can be used to postpone periods. However, it is important that you consult a doctor before using any oral contraceptive and get detailed information on how to delay your period effectively. Here are some of the most common reasons for delaying one’s menstrual cycle:
- Sometimes women wish to have more control over their cycle so that they can postpone their period until after a social engagement, an athletic event or a family vacation.
- Women who experience prolonged or painful periods may wish to use oral contraceptives to delay or even skip their monthly period.
- Certain medical conditions such as anemia, epilepsy or endometriosis may be worsened by menstruation and in such cases, it may be necessary to delay the regular menstrual cycle.
- Women who have severe PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) symptoms such as extreme breast tenderness or bloating prior to their period may choose to postpone their period and the uncomfortable PMS symptoms.
How Do Birth Control Pills Work?
Each birth control pill has its own profile of activity depending on the dosage and type of ingredients it contains. It is not always easy to decide on the safest birth control pill for you and so you may need to try a few before settling on one that best suits your requirements. It is therefore, important to understand how birth control pills work and what precautions you would need to take when using them.
Progestogen-only pills can be either low-dose or intermediate-dose contraceptives. The intermediate-dose progestogen pills inhibit the maturing process of eggs and thicken the cervical mucus (which prevents sperm penetration) while the low-dose progestogen pills rely mainly on thickening the cervical mucus.
The combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) contains estrogen and progestogen, which work through three mechanisms of action:
- They change the woman’s hormonal balance so that her ovaries do not produce an egg.
- They cause the cervical mucus to thicken which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
- They make the endometrium, which is the lining of the womb thinner so that it is tougher for a fertilized egg to attach itself to the uterus.
In addition to these regular contraceptive pills, there are emergency contraceptive tablets that are also known as “morning-after” pills. These birth control contain higher doses of the hormones found in regular contraceptive pills and are meant to be taken during a short span after sexual intercourse in order to prevent pregnancy.
Ormeloxifene or centchroman is a non-hormonal, non-steroidal oral contraceptive that needs to be taken just once a week. Currently, it is available only in India under the trade name Saheli.
Delaying your period through contraceptive tablets can cause a number of unwanted birth control pill side effects. The most common complaint from women who delay their periods using birth control pills is breakthrough bleeding or spotting. Some of the other side effects of delaying your period include:
- Weight gain
- Sore or swollen breasts
- Mood swings
- A menstrual delay in the subsequent cycle
In some cases, an existing health problem such as liver or gallbladder disease, blood clots or heart disease can cause more serious side effects such as:
- Excruciating headaches
- Blurred vision
- Swelling in the legs
- Chest or stomach pain
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical help immediately.
There are certain pills called extended-cycle birth control pills that can be used to suppress menstruation altogether. These pills eliminate the withdrawal bleeding that women experience when using regular combined oral contraceptive pills. Extended-cycle birth control pills such as Seasonale are sometimes recommended for those with a mental disability who have problems coping with a regular menstrual cycle. It is important to discuss the effects of pills and possible drug interactions with a doctor before making a decision.
- Birth control methods - (http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/birth-control-methods.html)
- Levonorgestrel - (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a610021.html)
Latest Publications and Research on Birth Control Pills to Delay Periods
- Do Asian Patients Require Only Half of the Clozapine Dose Prescribed for Caucasians? A Critical Overview. - Published by PubMed
- Progestogen Sensitization: a Unique Female Presentation of Anaphylaxis. - Published by PubMed
- Vaginal postcoital injuries requiring surgical intervention: a case series and literature review. - Published by PubMed
- Pharmacological Management of the Genetic Generalised Epilepsies in Adolescents and Adults. - Published by PubMed
- Time to full effect, following treatment with combined oral contraceptives (cyclic versus continuous administration) in patients with endometriosis after laparoscopic surgery: a prospective cohort study. - Published by PubMed