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Irregular periods and birth control can be very closely linked. When patients complain of irregular periods to their physicians, one of the first questions asked will be if the patient has recently started, stopped, or changed hormonal birth control methods. Usually, the irregular periods associated with hormonal birth control are benign, although they can be disruptive for the patient. If they become a persistent problem, evaluation may be recommended to explore other potential causes of irregular periods.
The menstruation cycle, which lasts 28 days in most women, is regulated by hormones in the body. When people introduce hormones in the form of hormonal birth control, it is not uncommon for irregular periods to occur. In some cases, the first few months on a new method can be marked with irregular and unpredictable menstruation, until the body adjusts. Once someone is established on birth control, periods can actually get more regular, and sometimes, hormonal birth control is prescribed as a treatment for people with irregular cycles. Doctors are aware of the link between irregular periods and birth control and will usually warn patients before starting new medication so they know what to expect.
Some forms of birth control can cause periods to stop altogether. Others may lead to increased frequency of periods or spotting between periods, especially during the adjustment period. Women who are experiencing irregular periods while on birth control may be advised to stick it out for several months, if they can, to see if menstruation stabilizes once the body is used to the hormones. For some women, irregular periods and birth control are a continuous problem, and other contraceptive methods may have to be explored.
Changing birth control methods can lead to irregularity, as the new medication may contain different hormones in different dosages. While hormonal birth control is often thought of as interchangeable, there are a number of types available. Women struggling with irregular periods and birth control may want to try a different hormonal method before giving up on hormonal birth control altogether.
In women with heavy periods and highly irregular cycles, sometimes prescribing hormonal birth control can regulate the menstrual cycle. Periods typically are lighter on an established regimen, in addition to falling at predictable intervals. This connection between irregular periods and birth control explains why physicians may sometimes prescribe hormonal birth control to people who are not sexually active; the goal in this case is not contraception, but regulation of the menstrual cycle and increased patient comfort.
I suspect birth control pills have been used for regulating menstrual cycles since they first came on the market.
Some women who have irregular periods have beast periods: horrible cramps, heavy bleeding, ugly PMS -- you name it. Regulating their hormone levels, and thus, their periods, can make a huge difference in their quality of life. They always know when their periods will start and about how long they will last. My periods were like clockwork, but were horrible. Going on birth control certainly improved my quality of life.
There have been a lot of new contraceptive methods come on the market in the past 20 years, so if a woman can't take pills, sometimes other methods will work to regulate her periods, too. Even if she doesn't have awful periods, if they're irregular, it surely does make family planning difficult.