Women going through the transitional phase of perimenopause may need help dealing with the body's reaction to the slightly decreased levels of the ovarian hormone estrogen. Oral contraceptives are increasingly being considered to fulfill this role. Even though the use of oral contraceptives in this way has not been approved by the FDA, it has been scientifically proven that these contraceptives also offer several additional health benefits beyond birth control for the perimenopausal woman. However, just as when used in earlier years of a woman's life, oral contraception does carry some risks. Be sure to consult a doctor when considering this option for treatment of any perimenopausal symptoms.
Starting Oral Contraceptives for Perimenopause
Unlike regular hormone replacement therapy, there are not well-defined criteria for when a woman can start using oral contraceptives to treat perimenopausal symptoms. If a woman suspects that she has symptoms due to perimenopause that bother her enough to need medication, she can really start whenever she wants. All she needs to do is see her doctor to make sure none of the contraindications apply to her.
Benefits of Oral Contraceptives for Perimenopause
In addition to protecting a woman against unwanted pregnancy, oral contraceptives are also very effective at relieving the annoying symptoms that may be brought about by perimenopause. Some of these symptoms that can be relieved are:
- Pre-menstrual syndrome: PMS can sometimes get worse with the onset of perimenopause.
- Menstrual cycle irregularity: perimenopausal women will often start to experience an erratic menstrual cycle.
- Growing menopausal symptoms: oral contraceptives may relieve minor hot flashes, irritability, insomnia, and any other symptoms common to the beginnings of menopause.
Side-Benefits of Oral Contraceptives Special Considerations for Migraine Sufferers
While the main goal of using birth control pills for perimenopausal women is to get rid of certain perimenopausal symptoms, women using these pills can also get some other important health benefits. Some of them are:
The effect of hormonal supplements on the risk of breast cancer is a topic that has long been debated. It has been shown that oral contraceptives may have a protective effect against the development of breast cancer only for the breast tissue that has no sign of malignancy already. The caveat here is that, if some breast cells have already become malignant, the use of oral contraceptives can actually speed up the development of breast cancer in these cells. But, there is no evidence that it causes those malignancies in the first place.
Unlike the average woman, women who experience migraine headaches should think twice about using oral contraceptives during perimenopause. It has been suggested that a history of migraines can increase a womans risk of having a stroke. However, this seems to be limited to women who have an aura before their migraines or who have other neurological symptoms. For this reason, if a woman is considering starting birth control pills for the alleviation of perimenopausal symptoms and is also experiencing migraines, she should be sure to see a neurologist first. He/she will be able to tell whether or not it would be okay to start on the pills.
For women who have migraine headaches that are not associated with neurologic symptoms, a low-dose oral contraceptive can probably be used, but consulting a doctor would be a good idea. Use of the pills should be ended if the headaches get any worse or if they start occurring more frequently.
Who is Not Eligible
The contraindications listed for use of oral contraceptives in women past age 35 are:
Side-Benefits of Oral Contraceptives
Special Considerations for Migraine Sufferers