The ‘Super’ Pill
In May 2007, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States officially approved a new contraceptive pill for use by American women. This pill is a low-dose combined contraceptive, containing the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This birth control pill has been dubbed the ‘super’ pill by the media because it’s designed for continuous use and can suspend bleeding altogether. Manufacturers of the continuous combined contraceptive pill, also referred to as the extended cycle combined contraceptive pill, say they hope to make this pill available to British women in 2008. As of yet, the super pill has yet to appear on the shelves of UK pharmacies. Many women in the UK are waiting with baited breath for its arrival, largely due to the promise of a period-free life and an end to premenstrual symptoms. So how just effective is the continuous contraceptive pill? And what exactly are the risks and benefits of this form of hormonal contraception?
How It Works
The continuous contraceptive pill protects against pregnancy in the same way as the conventional contraceptive pill. Namely, both types of pills prevent ovulation. However, the continuous pill, unlike the conventional pill, does not require you to take a seven-day break in which you get withdrawal bleeding, which women generally think of a period, even though this is not really the case. With the conventional pill, you take either placebo pills or no pills at all during this seven-day break between cycles. With the continuous pill, this break doesn’t happen and, in theory, you experience no bleeding at all.
The manufacturers of the continuous pill say that its low doses of hormones make it safe for continuous use. Before the pill was approved by the FDA, it was tested in two clinical trials, each of which lasted one year. A total of 2,400 women were involved. The continuous pill is therefore presumed to be neither more nor less risky than the conventional pill for women who can take the conventional pill safely (you should ask your doctor if you fall into this category – some women can’t take the conventional pill, for example, smokers and older women). Many women simply take the conventional pill with no breaks in order to have no periods, but the continuous pill is the first contraceptive pill to be approved for use in this way. Some doctors worry that the long-term effects of continuous use of active hormones are, as yet, unknown.
The clinical trials found that more than 70 % of women will find that they experience no bleeding at all after taking the continuous pill for seven months. The pill does not, however, work for everyone. Some women will experience irregular spotting and light bleeding even after seven months. Many women will have to wait several months and even up to a year for the continuous pill to take full effect.
The continuous pill provides a steady stream of hormones, whereas the conventional pill causes hormones to fluctuate when you stop taking the hormones for your seven-day break. This change in hormone levels is what causes unpleasant premenstrual symptoms. Therefore, women using the continuous pill may experience an improvement in their PMS.
Doctors’ worries about the continuous pill include the following:
A lack of information about long-term consequences.
The possibility that the use of the pill could hide underlying infertility.
Women using this pill as a way to put off having a family may have to wait quite a while after stopping the pill before menstruation returns and they are able to get pregnant.
Use of the pill could disguise accidental pregnancy for a long period of time.
The continuous pill may increase the risk of problems associated with the conventional pill: blood clots, certain female cancers, reduced bone density, cardiovascular problems, etc.
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