Heavy Periods & Birth Control

Heavy periods & birth control at a glance

  • Many women experience heavy periods, and hormone-based birth control pills, patches, implants, injections, and vaginal rings are frequently prescribed to help treat this condition.
  • Such birth control methods can reduce the menstrual flow by as much as 60 percent and lessen the duration of the flow.
  • The estrogen in hormone-based birth control increases the clotting factors in blood, which slows the flow.
  • Hormone-based birth control methods are not appropriate for all women experiencing heavy periods.

Using hormone-based birth control to treat heavy periods

Approximately one in three women experiences a heavy period, also known as menorrhagia. Women experiencing heavy periods should consult their physician to determine the underlying cause and to get the appropriate treatment.

Menorrhagia can be caused by:

  • Bleeding disorders
  • Structural issues, such as fibroids or infections in the uterus
  • Changes in hormone levels that may occur when an adolescent first begins her period, when ovulation is missed or erratic, or when a woman enters menopause
  • Use of intrauterine devices
  • Certain medications
  • Serious conditions such as liver disease, cancer and diseases of the reproductive system

Birth control pills are often the first line of treatment for women with a normal uterus who have heavy periods. The estrogen in birth control pills acts to promote thickening of the blood and clotting. This can result in decreased menstrual flow, a shorter duration of the flow, and relief from pain sometimes associated with heavy periods. Approximately 80 percent of women with a healthy uterus and heavy bleeding respond to birth control pills.

However, not all women experiencing heavy periods respond to birth control pills. They can be ineffective in reducing the menstrual flow, and they can also cause side effects in some women that outweigh the benefit of treating the heavy period. It may be appropriate to use a birth control patch or a vaginal ring to deliver the hormones instead of taking birth control pills.

Birth control pills are also used to treat the heavy period symptoms of the following bleeding disorders:

  • An inherited bleeding disorder called von Willebrand disease that results in insufficient blood clotting
  • Dysfunctional uterine bleeding involving abnormal bleeding from the vagina due to hormonal changes, often occurring when the ovaries do not release an egg

Can I use birth control pills if I have heavy periods?

Generally, yes. Birth control pills should not have an adverse effect on heavy periods and can help, as described above. However, when you initially have a heavy period, you should consult with your doctor to determine the cause. Your physician may advise you to alter the kind of birth control pill you are taking to help address the heavy period.

Can birth control pills cause heavy periods?

No. However, other birth control methods such as the copper IUD or the Depo-Provera shots can cause prolonged menstrual flow, and rarely heavier flow.

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