Did you ever wonder why, when you visit your doctor and start talking about your period, you ultimately end up with a prescription for the birth control pill by the end of the appointment? You have legitimate symptoms of pain, irregularity, unusual or heavy bleeding, or PMS, and yet the doctor isn't able to tell you what is wrong with you. Instead, he/she offers you an easy solution taking a pill daily that will help alleviate your medical symptoms.
The truth is that since the birth control pill was developed in the 1960s we done little to advance in the area of women's health when it comes to these issues.
What is the birth control pill?
Most birth control pills are comprised of two hormones: an artificial substitute for estrogen, and progesterone. These hormones work to suppress the women's reproductive system in order to suppress her fertility.
There are three main ways in which the birth control pill works to prevent pregnancy.
1) The pill acts to suppress the pituitary hormones (FSH and LH) that regulate ovulation. Therefore the pill suppresses ovulation or stops the release of the egg preventing conception the majority of the time.
2) It alters the production and characteristics of cervical mucus not allowing sperm to be able to penetrate the cervix.
3) It alters the lining of the uterus so if conception does occur it would be difficult for a new pregnancy to implant in the uterus.
Side effects of the pill
Initial side effects may include: nausea, dizziness, cyclic weight gain, edema (swelling), breast fullness and tenderness, breakthrough bleeding
Serious side effects may include: thromboembolic events (strokes, clots), hypertension, migraines/headaches, depression, hepatocelluar adenoma (liver tumors), and gallbladder disease acceleration
Other side effects may include: acne, hirsuitism (excess hair growth), increased appetite, pruitus (itching), carbohydrate intolerance, decreased libido
Medical uses of the pill
- painful periods
- irregular and annovulatory cycles (PCOS)
- ovarian cysts
- heavy menses
- abnormal uterine bleeding
Why is the pill used to treat these medical problems?
The birth control pill suppresses the normal menstrual cycle that occurs in women. It creates an artificial cycle by giving hormones for three weeks and then withdrawing them for a week to create a withdrawal bleed. Because of its actions on the lining of the uterus and the suppression of the natural hormone curves of the fertility cycle, it alleviates the symptoms of the medical diseases that affect the reproductive system. For example, the BCP thins the lining of the uterus over time; therefore, if you have heavy periods it will lessen the amount of bleeding.
The disadvantage to using the pill to treat these types of symptoms is that it is not diagnosing or correcting the problem. It is masking or suppressing the symptoms. You may also have to deal with annoying or harmful side effects that the pill causes. More importantly, so many of these changes in the menstrual cycle have the ability to affect fertility long term. Therefore in order to have the best chance at preserving fertility and avoiding infertility it would be best to avoid the birth control pill as a solution to women's health problems.
Another important fact to remember is that many of the diseases that affect fertility also have long term medical health consequences. For example, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can lead to increased risks of breast cancer, uterine cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Therefore, it is best to treat these diseases as early as possible and with treatment to correct and cure the disease.
Is the Pill an abortifiacient?
Potentially. Breakthrough ovulation occurs on the birth control pill at least 1-6% of the time. The pill affects the inner lining of the uterus making it hostile for implantation, therefore, if conception does occur with use of the birth control pill, this can lead to an early abortion.
What's the alternative??
A new medical science has been developed that allows us to not only have a viable alternative to the birth control pill, but a better approach to treating the disorders of the reproductive system. This new medical science, called NaProTechnology, developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, MD at the Pope Paul VI Institute has allowed women to "unlock the mysteries of the menstrual cycle." NaProTechnology allows women to monitor and maintain their procreative and gynecological health. It has been in development for over 30 years and continues to challenge medical science to demand better care of women and the diseases that affect their fertility.
It begins by having women chart their cycles using a standardized system of fertility regulation - the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. By simply observing various biological markers in a woman's menstrual cycle we can begin to understand the normal and abnormal function of the reproductive system. Then by using these charts to systematically do a thorough evaluation and diagnosis of the women's health, our medical consultants can offer a treatment plan that works cooperatively with the woman's body and is free of the harmful side effects of synthetic hormones.
NaProTechnology, while not only being cooperative with the menstrual and fertility cycles, is morally acceptable to people of all faiths. It maintains the dignity and self-worth of women, it values and supports the foundations of marriage, and it fosters and respects the immeasurable value of life from its earliest stages.
How do I get started?
The first step is to learn to chart your cycles using the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. You should start by attending an Introductory Session. After you've been charting for about two months, you can make an appointment with one of our medical consultants who will review your chart with you, discuss your symptoms and medical history, and develop a personalized plan for tests and treatment.
Have hope! There are real solutions for the menstrual health concerns you are experiencing!