What is Norethindrone?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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Norethindrone is a prescription drug used to treat certain female reproductive tract disorders, including endometriosis and irregular or absent periods. It is a synthetic hormone that is similar in structure and function to the naturally produced hormone progesterone. When norethindrone is used exactly how it is prescribed by a doctor, most women see significant improvement in their symptoms in a few weeks or months. The drug can potentially cause negative side effects, but they are usually mild. It is important to keep all scheduled appointments with a doctor during the course of treatment to make sure the drug is working properly and that complications do not arise.

Like natural progesterone hormones, norethindrone helps regulate menstrual activity. It produces chemical signals that stop the production of new endometrial cells in the uterus and, in the case of endometriosis, on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or elsewhere in the body. The sudden increase in hormones also helps jump start a regular period. As the high level of hormones tapers off over the course of a few days, a withdrawal reaction occurs in the uterus that induces menstrual bleeding.


Norethindrone comes in oral tablets that are designed to be taken once a day. Patients who have abnormal menstrual bleeding or absent periods are usually instructed to begin taking the drug about 14 days before their periods would theoretically begin. A doctor may prescribe between 2.5 and 10 milligram daily doses for five to ten days. When the drug works correctly, menstrual bleeding begins sometime within the first week after treatment is stopped. Patients who suffer from endometriosis are typically given between five and 15 milligram doses to take daily for six to nine months to help prevent symptoms.

It is possible to experience side effects when taking norethindrone. Common temporary reactions include upset stomach, nausea, dizziness, and headache. Since the drug alters the balance of hormones in a woman's body, other possible complications include weight gain, tenderness and swelling in the breasts, acne, increased facial hair growth, and decreased sex drive. Rarely, the medication can cause more serious reactions, such as painful migraines, jaundice, depression, and blood pressure fluctuations.

It is important to report any serious or persistent side effects to a doctor right away. He or she may need to adjust the dosage amount of norethindrone or consider trying a different type of medication. Most patients who do not experience major reactions respond very well to treatment and are able to establish regular, less painful menstrual cycles.


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