US approves birth control pill that blocks menstruation
- US approves birth control pill that blocks menstruation
- 20:22 23 May 2007
- NewScientist.com news service
- New Scientist and Reuters
A birth control pill that may eliminate a woman's monthly menstrual period has received approval from US drug regulators.
Lybrel, made by pharmaceutical giant Wyeth, is meant to be taken every day to indefinitely stop monthly menstrual bleeding and prevent pregnancy. It contains two hormones widely used in other oral contraceptives – levonorgestrel (a progestin) and ethinyl estradiol (an estrogen).
Traditional birth control pills are usually taken for 21 days followed by seven days of placebo pills or no pills, which allows a period of bleeding to occur.
For years, some women have been stopping their periods by taking birth control constantly, with no break whatsoever. Lybrel is the first, however, that is approved for that use.
It takes time for periods to be suppressed, so most women will have intermittent bleeding or spotting during the first year of use, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has approved the drug for sale.
"The convenience of having no scheduled menstruation should be weighed against the inconvenience of unscheduled bleeding or spotting," the agency said in a statement.
Wyeth studied more than 2400 women aged 18 to 49. In the main study, 59% who took Lybrel for one year had no bleeding or spotting during the last month.
Bleeding and spotting may occur on four or five days each month, said Daniel Shames, deputy director of the FDA office that reviews contraceptives. It decreases over time for most women who stay on the drug for a year. About half of the women in Wyeth's studies dropped out before that time, he notes.
Blood clots and strokes
The new contraceptive has potential major side effects such as blood clots and strokes, similar to those of traditional birth control.
Vanessa Cullins at the reproductive advocacy non-profit Planned Parenthood welcomed Lybrel as a new option. "Women who have been presented with the option of extended hormonal use opt for and like it. It's turning out to be fairly popular," she says.
But others have questioned the idea of eliminating a natural process because it may be inconvenient.
"Menstrual manipulation appears to be another in a long line of attempts to medicalise women's natural biological life events," says sociologist Jean Elson of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, US.
Wyeth said Lybrel should be available in pharmacies in July.