Women's Health Monday January 23, 2012

Should we have more targeted testing for the pill?

A couple of days ago I saw an article about a Scandinavian study that revealed that the Pill (combined oral contraceptive) has been proven to actually reduce period pain, which is extremely handy, because it’s estimated that more than 50% of women suffer from painful periods at some point in their life. However, the Pill isn’t currently licenced for the treatment of period pain, although some doctors may prescribe it ‘off-label’ to help with the condition. Which makes me wonder if more research shouldn’t be done on the most researched medication in the world in order to provide women with more targeted solutions to so-called ‘women’s problems’?

The research looked at 1300 women between the ages of 19 to 24 years and, according to the BBC, this 30 year study has shown that women who actually took the Pill experienced a reduced severity in period pain compared to the women who didn’t.

Most women who use the Pill know that not every version will be right for them, and it’s simply a question of trial and error to find the one that’s best suited. This is all dependent on whether a Pill causes a person any severe side effects or not or whether it actually provides the required contraceptive cover. However, apart from period pain and contraception, the Pill is also considered to be helpful in alleviating other conditions:

  • Acne and hirsutism
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Endometriosis
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Perimenopause

Apart from a select few contraceptives such as Dianette, which is specifically intended for the treatment of hirsutism and severe acne, there aren’t many pills that have been specifically approved for any of these conditions. Women may take Yasmin because it’s said to help acne, but it’s unlikely that it would be prescribed specifically for that purpose. As I said, even though the Pill is one of the most researched medications in the world, it would be helpful to one day actually predict more effectively which one would actually work best for whom and which conditions will be most effectively treated by taking a particular Pill.

I have no doubt that women know their bodies best, and I think we need more studies such as the one mentioned above to provide clarity and to clear up any myths can shape the route for more targeted treatment and improve the quality of life for millions of women. However, just because benefits are clinically proven, does it have to make a difference to whether women use it or not? I think Jennie Bristow from BPAS puts it best: ‘So, while beneficial ‘off label’ effects of the Pill are wonderful for women who want to use this method of contraception, and while knowing more about these effects would be great, it is important to see this as a benefit for contraceptive users, not as an instrumental way of encouraging more women to use the Pill if they would be more comfortable with another form of contraception – or indeed, with none at all.’

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