July 21, 2006
Dr. Max Gomez, NBC News
Undated -- Birth control pills have been around for over 40 years with little change except a progressive lowering of the dose of hormone. But now several new options are making their way onto the market, and they offer several added benefits, including far fewer periods.
It's a little unusual for a woman to praise her birth control. The reason Jill Pearson likes hers so much is that not only does it offer effective contraception, it dramatically reduces the number of her menstrual periods. A big convenience and for Jill also a health benefit.
"I used to get really bad migraines. I used to get really really bad PMS symptoms and so to not only have them less frequently but also they've also lessened in severity. That's been a really really nice side effect," she said.
It's part of what experts call a new era in birth control for women. "Same ingredients that are safe and proven but new recipes that come in several different flavors," says Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, ob-gyn.
Traditional birth control pills were 21 days of hormone and 7 days of placebo, which meant a kind of hormonal roller coaster. "A lot of women don't feel so well during that week off which is the same week that they're going to have a period. With the new approach, the last 7 days of the pack has a little bit of hormone in it. That stabilizes the hormone levels for a woman and that gives her more manageable menstrual periods," said Westhoff.
That's exemplified by recently approved Seasonique, which has a low dose of estrogen throughout the cycle and is also a new example of a trend begun in 2003 with Seasonale, which instead of three weeks of active birth control pills, has three months - so women get just four periods a year.
Another alternative is Yaz: offering 24 days of active pills and four days of placebo for shorter, lighter periods.
And later this year Lybrel is expected to win approval. It's a continuous low dose option without any placebo interval. "A woman could have as many or as few periods as she chooses, it's completely safe for her body it's completely safe for her uterus."
Oral contraception isn't for everyone including women over age 35, smokers, and those with serious medical problems. For them there are new options in the pipeline as well, including a new implant that may get approval later this year and a new IUD.