Extended Use Oral Contraceptives

No More Periods?  A Hormonal Contraceptive Pill Taken for a Whole Year

Sick of those excruciating cramps, pounding headaches, and wild mood swings that happen every month? Are your menstrual periods painful, frustrating, or just plain annoying? Well, if you you have ever dreamed of getting rid of your period, then you may be you may be tempted by a new birth control pill that promises full period relief. The oral contraceptive, called Lybrel, is being heralded by many women as a real saving grace. But others worry about the safety of Lybrel and what it means for the future of the menstrual cycle.

What is Lybrel?
Lybrel is a birth control pill produced by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the first birth control pill that suppresses the menstrual period for a full year. Lybrel is a low dose, combination pill that contains a mixture of synthetic estrogen and progesterone. Specifically, the pills contain ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel, synthetic hormones that can help to control the cycle of menstruation and ovulation.

How Does Anya Work?
Lybrel works just like the regular 21-day cycle oral contraceptive: it uses a combination of hormones to prevent ovulation from occurring, thus preventing pregnancy. It also thins the lining of the uterus, possibly preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg. What distinguishes Lybrel from other types of birth control pills, though, is the fact that you take a hormonal pill every single day of the year.

Currently, most birth control pills are taken for 21-days followed by a seven-day break. In 2003, a new type of birth control was introduced to the American market. Known as Seasonale (because it is a “seasonal birth control”), this birth control pill is taken for 84 consecutive days before the seven day break from hormone pills. Taking this concept one step further, Lybrel users take a hormone pill 365 days a year.

Regular birth control pills are taken for three weeks, followed by a week of placebo (sugar) pills. As you take the sugar pills, the hormones in your body drop, signaling your period to begin. But with Lybrel, the birth control pills are taken daily for 365 days in a row. There are no placebo pills, which means you do not experience a menstrual period.

How Effective is Lybrel?
In clinical studies, Lybrel has proven to be just as effective in preventing pregnancy as other combination birth control pills. When taken perfectly, Lybrel was found to be 98% effective in guarding against pregnancy. However, similar to other birth control pills, it is likely that actual use (i.e. not taking the pill at the same time every day; forgetting to take a pill) may lower its efficacy to 92%. Likewise, Lybrel’s effectiveness can be impacted by certain medications (like antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, and St. John’s Wort), or if you take the pills erratically. Lybrel is not effective in preventing against STDs.

Who Can Use Lybrel?
Any healthy woman who wishes to guard against unplanned pregnancies or who wants to suppress her period can take Lybrel. Because it completely suppresses periods, this extended-use oral contraceptive may be particularly suited to women suffering from:

Anya may also be preferred by women with extremely busy or erratic schedules.

Is Lybrel Safe?
According to clinical studies performed by the manufacturer, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, as well as other independent studies, Lybrel is entirely safe to take. However, every type of female birth control pill does slightly increase your risk of blood clots and breast cancer, particularly if you are over 35 and a smoker. Out of 2,000 Lybrel study participants, only 6 reported dangerous health side effects, like blood clots. The most common side effect found in the study was irregular menstrual bleeding. After taking Lybrel for seven months, approximately 30% of participants continued to experience this side effect.

It should be noted that no clinical studies have been performed studying the long-term effects of Lybrel. Additionally, some of the studies performed on the pill were undertaken by the manufacturer, presenting the possiblity of biased results. It is not known how Lybrel may affect fertility or reproductive health when taken for a number of years. One concern for women is that suppression of menstruation for such a long period may result in an irreversible loss of bone density, a documented side-effect of depo-provera another hormonal contraceptive that suppresses menstruation for months at a time.

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