What You Need to Know About Menopause and Birth Control
Menopause is something which affects all women as they reach middle age. It happens as a result of falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, which causes menstruation to stop. Menopause officially begins one year after your last period if you are over 50, or two years after your last period if you are under 50.
However, many women begin to experience menopause symptoms before their periods actually stop. This is known as perimenopause. During this time, your periods may become less regular, and you may experience other symptoms including:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Anxiety, depression, or mood swings
- Reduced libido
- Vaginal dryness
Following menopause, women are also at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.
Menopause and Birth Control: An Overview
Many women use birth control throughout their childbearing years, either to prevent pregnancy or to make difficult menstrual cycles easier to manage.
There are many different types of birth control including the following:
- The combined pill
- The ‘mini pill’
- Intra-uterine devices (IUDs)
- Male and female condoms
Many of these forms of birth control contain synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This means that if you are using hormonal birth control as you enter menopause, it may mask some of your symptoms.
For example, women taking the combined pill may continue to have regular bleeds, and women taking the mini pill may have irregular or absent periods, even if they have not yet entered perimenopause. Furthermore, some of the side effects of hormonal contraception can be similar to the symptoms of menopause, for example mood swings, low libido, and spotting between periods.
These similarities can make it difficult to know whether you are going through menopause, or simply having side effects from your birth control.
Can Birth Control Delay Menopause?
Most forms of birth control contain hormones, but they are not powerful enough to delay the inevitable. When you go through menopause depends on your own genetic make-up, and no medication is going to stop it from happening when the time comes.
However, birth control can delay the symptoms of menopause, or at least reduce their severity. Let’s take a closer look at how.
Can Birth Control Help Menopause Symptoms?
Birth control can help to mask menopausal symptoms in several ways. Some forms of hormonal contraception, for example, the combined pill, contain estrogen and progesterone, which are also used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
However, in HRT, the dose of these hormones is much lower. Other forms of birth control contain progesterone alone, which can also help to mask some of the symptoms of menopause.
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As well as preventing you from becoming pregnant, there are a number of other advantages to taking birth control during perimenopause. These include the following:
- Reducing symptoms such as hot flashes
- Regulating menstruation
- Reducing blood loss during menstruation
- Relieving menstrual pain
- Maintaining bone health
- Reducing the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer
However, it is important to note that although birth control can ease the symptoms of menopause, they are likely to return as soon as you stop using it.
Should You Take Birth Control During Menopause?
Taking birth control during menopause can help to relieve some of the symptoms you may experience, temporarily at least. However, it could also make it difficult for you to know whether you are going through menopause or just experiencing side effects from your medication.
Most people go through menopause in their early 50s, and some physicians suggest that you stop using birth control around this time. However, there is still a chance you could get pregnant at this age, even if your periods are much less regular than they used to be.
If you do wish to continue using birth control into your 50s, there are few things to take into account. Firstly, estrogen can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and blood clots, and this risk increases with age. Therefore, physicians usually recommend that women switch to an estrogen-free form of contraception by the age of 40, or 35 if you are a smoker. This could mean the mini pill, an implant, or an IUD.
It is also advised that perimenopausal women do not take birth control containing estrogen if they have a history of estrogen-dependent cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, or diabetes.
HRT is considered a safer way to control menopausal symptoms than birth control as it contains much lower levels of hormones. However, HRT will not protect you against pregnancy in the same way that birth control can.
Therefore, if you are prescribed HRT, it is important that you continue to use other methods of contraception, such as condoms, until you are sure you are no longer fertile. It is generally considered safe to stop using birth control after the age of 55, as getting pregnant at this age is extremely rare.
If you decide to stop using birth control, it can take a few months for your natural cycle to be restored. Therefore, you may not know for sure whether you are still having periods right away.
You can have your levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) tested as an indicator of whether you are still ovulating, but this is not always accurate since FSH levels can fluctuate a lot during perimenopause.
The bottom line is that there are no hard and fast rules regarding menopause and birth control. The only way to decide whether it is right for you is to discuss your situation with your physician and make the decision together.