Menstrual Suppression and Lybrel

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From the National Women's Health Network

You've seen the news, now get the facts.

Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration approved Lybrel, the first birth control pill designed to completely eliminate a woman's monthly period. Along with Seasonale and Seasonique, pills that reduce periods to four times a year, this is an alternative for menstrual suppression that may be attractive to some women.

From a safety perspective, Lybrel and other pills that suppress menstruation are probably a reasonable option for most women. If you can take birth control pills safely, you can probably take these. But there are concerns about how these products will be marketed and presented to women. If manufacturers and health care providers leave out the downsides and overstate the benefits, as some have in the past, girls and women may be misled.

One of the most important downsides is likely to be the high rate of break-through bleeding - which can last as long as a regular period but which happens without the predictability of a monthly cycle. Half the women in the studies of Lybrel dropped out, many because of this inconvenience. Those who stayed in the trial found that it could take up to a year before this bleeding stopped. Another concern is that women won't be able to use a missed period as a sign of possible pregnancy, so the FDA recommends that women taking Lybrel use pregnancy tests if they suspect they might have gotten pregnant.

Some doctors have said that it's more natural, and even healthier, to suppress periods than to have monthly cycles. This is not supported by good evidence, and is a troubling message particularly for young teens and girls who are just beginning to learn about how their bodies work.

Women need truthful and complete information about menstrual suppression to be able to make good decisions about whether it is for them. This new option should not be undermined, by over-promising and over promotion or by stigmatizing menstruation. For an unbiased and accurate discussion of menstrual suppression and Lybrel see our updated fact sheet on Menstrual Suppression at: http://www.nwhn.org/news/fact_sheets?story=25.