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Happier Hormones: Treating Period Pain With the Pill

By Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson
WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”


Thirteen-year-old Brooke came to see me for horrible cramps. High-dose Motrin cut her pain in half within a few months. I could have prescribed oral hormones, but I usually try to avoid prescribing hormones within two years of the first menstrual period, while systems are still “working out the kinks.”

“Oral Hormones” vs. "Birth Control Pills”

When I prescribe oral hormones for period problems—especially for patients who are under eighteen and still virgins—I don’t call them “birth control pills.” I make a point of calling them “oral hormones,” to drive home the idea that this is a treatment for a medical condition, not a prescription to go out and start having sex. There are health advantages to holding off on sex until you’re eighteen. When you do start having sex, you’ll need to use two forms of birth control—not just the pill.

Two years later Brooke developed an unrelated problem—a benign ovarian cyst which we treated with oral hormones to help prevent it from coming back. She didn’t get any more cysts—and most of her period pain disappeared, too!

If you’ve tried other remedies and nothing helped, your doctor probably will talk to you about oral hormones—aka the birth control pill. Since most period pain is caused by hormones, regulating those hormones via the pill usually solves the problem. Oral hormones really work well. They reduce menstrual symptoms and make periods lighter, shorter, and less painful. Plus, they cut the risk of ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease and have lots of other benefits.

Oral hormones combine estrogen and progestin (a man-made form of progesterone) to prevent your body from releasing an egg every month. As long as you’re taking a pill—often for three weeks every month—your body won’t shed its uterine lining. When you take a few days off the pill (typically once a month), you get your period. But it’s not a real period, since you didn’t ovulate, and it’s more controlled than a naturally occurring one—we call this a “pill period.” After you’re on the pill for a few months, your periods usually become shorter, lighter, less painful, and more regular. All this can really boost your sense of control and confidence.

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