FDA Approves Birth Control Pills that Suppress Menstruation

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a birth control pill that reduces the number of menstrual cycles a woman has from 13 to four a year. The new pill Seasonale, manufactured by Barr Laboratories, comes in packets of 84 pills instead of 21, with a cycle of seven placebo pills every three months. Barr Laboratories announced that Seasonale will be available to women by prescription through their doctor at the end of October.

Critics caution that little is know about the risks of long-term menstrual suppression, but women have been using traditional birth control pills to suppress menstruation for years. In fact, the 21-pill regimen developed in the 1950s was “arbitrary,” according to the Washington Post, chosen to make the Pill more acceptable to women and to the Catholic Church.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the Seasonale clinical trials found that the drug’s main side effects are “break-through” bleeding, headaches, and inflammation of the upper throat. “Suppression of menstrual cycles several times a year can be a good strategy for women who suffer from various medical conditions,” said FMF Medical Director Dr. Beth Jordan. In addition to the benefits of conventional birth control pills, such as lighter periods and fewer problems with cramps and bloating, using birth control pills to skip periods also has potential health benefits, especially for women who suffer from endometriosis, uterine fibroids, anemia, and severe cramps.

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FDA 9/5/03; Barr Laboratories Press Release 9/5/03; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report 9/8/03; Virginian-Pilot 9/6/03; Feminist Daily News Wire 3/3/03; Washington Post 3/3/03

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