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The Use of Birth Control to Relieve Endometriosis Symptoms

written by: Suzanne Florin • edited by: BStone • updated: 1/9/2011

Although hormone therapy and surgery do not necessarily cure endometriosis, birth control pills work by slowing down endometriosis growth. Learn more about how the birth control for endometriosis works, and how effective it is in relieving its symptoms.

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    Endometriosis is a disorder characterized by an abnormal growth of cells outside the uterus. These endometrial cells form and attach themselves to several tissues outside the uterus such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, vagina and the outer surfaces of the pelvic area. These endometrial implants are benign (not cancerous), but they can cause pain in some women.

    Women who are in their reproductive years are susceptible to experience endometriosis. In most cases, this disorder is common to those between the ages of 25 and 35, but some have been reported to have endometriosis as early as 11 years of age. This medical condition, however, rarely occurs in postmenopausal women. Caucasian women, those who have low body mass index (BMI), and those who are pregnant at an older age are at high risk of developing endometriosis.

    Some women do not experience symptoms of endometriosis, while others go through intense pain and discomfort as the illness progresses. Surgery and hormone therapy do not cure this disorder; however, the use of birth control for endometriosis is effective in relieving symptoms and slowing down the growth of endometriosis.

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    Symptoms of Endometriosis

    Although some women who have endometriosis do not experience any symptoms, this medical condition can cause physical discomfort in some. The most common symptoms of endometriosis are the following:

    • Pelvic pain that is experienced during or before menstruation
    • Dyspareunia, or painful sexual intercourse
    • Pain during bowel movement or urination
    • Lower back pains
    • Blood found in urine
    • Heavy bleeding during menstruation
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Lower abdominal pains

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    Birth Control for Endometriosis

    There are several medical treatment options for relieving symptoms of endometriosis. Some doctors prescribe NSAID's (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen to diminish menstrual cramps and pelvic pains, but they do not necessarily treat endometrial implants.

    Dr. Vercellini, an associate professor in the University of Milan, attempted to find evidence on the effectiveness of oral contraceptives in treating symptoms of endometriosis. His study concluded that the use of oral contraceptives reduced the risk of endometriosis.

    Birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, work by stopping ovulation. They are effective in slowing down the growth, bleeding and shedding of endometrial implants. Oral contraceptives have less side effects compared with other hormone therapy. Oral contraceptives can be used for years, unlike some hormone therapies that can only be used for a few months to a maximum of two years.

    Seasonale, a birth control pill that is used continuously for 84 days, is proven to give the most relief. Other birth control pills are also effective in treating heavy menstrual bleeding, and relieve mild to moderate symptoms of endometriosis.

    Among the most common and mild side effects of birth control pills are the following:

    • Changes in menstrual period
    • Weight gain
    • Changes in mood
    • Breast tenderness, which is often experienced during the first few months of use
    • Decreased sex drive
    • Breakthrough bleeding or spotting
    • Darkenning of the skin on the upper lip, under the eyes, or on the forehead, which result from sun exposure

    However, birth control pills are not recommended for women who have the following risk factors for complications:

    • Smoker, and aged 35 or older
    • Has liver disease
    • Had a history of stroke, breast cancer, blood clots in a vein, migraines with aura
    • Have uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure
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    Resources

    Birth Control Pills for Endometriosis, From

    http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw100919#hw100919-Bib

    Endometriosis Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, From

    http://www.medicinenet.com/endometriosis

    Oral Contraceptives and Risk of Endometriosis, From

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20833638