Health Canada Approves Seasonale


seasonale

Michelle Magnan , Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, July 06, 2007

Say goodbye to “that time of the month” and hello to “that time of the season.”

An oral contraceptive designed to give you only four menstrual periods a year instead of the usual 13 will be hitting Canadian pharmacy shelves by the end of the year.

Taken as a 91-day regimen — 84 active tablets with hormones followed by seven inactive tablets, during which time a woman would have her period — Seasonale will appeal to busy women who don’t want to deal with the inconveniences of a monthly period and to women who have severe premenstrual syndrome.

But is taking birth control pills continuously safe?

It is, says Dr. Melissa Mirosh, a staff obstetrician and gynecologist at High River General Hospital and a contributor to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada guidelines on extended and continuous-use contraception.

In fact, Mirosh says that for the past 40 years doctors have been telling women to take birth control pills back-to-back to eliminate periods and therefore avoid severe menstrual symptoms, such as migraines and abdominal cramping.

“Honestly, this is just the re-packaging of a product that’s already there,” she says. “But what’s exciting is the concept that it’s OK to not have your period every month while you’re on the pill.”

Mirosh says it’s a myth that women need to have a period every 30 days.

“The only reason for menses in a typical cycle is to shed that tissue that was there in order to have a pregnancy. When you’re on a birth control product, it prevents that lining from growing in the first place, so there’s nothing to shed.”

She says that women on traditional birth control don’t have a true menstrual period. More accurately, they have a “hormone withdrawal bleed.”

When it comes to hormone levels, Seasonale is similar to other birth control pills.

“All of the birth control pills available right now are considered low dose from an estrogen standpoint,” she says. “Seasonale is comparable. It has no effects on fertility and it is safe.”

From a pregnancy prevention standpoint, Mirosh says Seasonale is equally as good as any other birth control pill and possibly a little bit better.

If you’re on a monthly birth control cycle and miss more than one pill at certain times of the month, it can be very unforgiving.

“But when you use birth control pills in an extended fashion like this, if you miss pills, in theory it should be a little bit more forgiving,” says Mirosh.

Laura Wershler, executive director of Calgary-based Sexual Health Access Alberta (formerly Planned Parenthood Alberta) and a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, says more research is needed to ascertain the safety of cycle-stopping contraceptives such as Seasonale.

“The studies have only really studied women who have taken the drug for one or two years,” says Wershler.

“The other important point is that rather than completely concern ourselves with the safety of these drugs, we need to do research on the benefits of menstruation, which are related to bone, breast and cardiac health. There’s research showing that optimal bone health requires ovulation.”

Seasonale is suitable for women who are candidates for regular birth control pill use.

When it hits the market some time near the end of this year, one 91-pill packet will be similar in cost to three months’ worth of other birth control pills — about $50.

mmagnan@theherald.canwest.com