Conclusive evidence that the combined oral contraceptive pill does alleviate the symptoms of painful periods has been released by scientists from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Previously, there was little agreement on the subject, with studies and anecdotal evidence often at odds. The new research has been published in the journal Human Reproduction.
The new work shows that women who used the combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) suffered less severe pain compared with women who did not use it. "By comparing women at different ages, it was possible to demonstrate the influence of COCs on the occurrence and severity of dysmenorrhoea, at the same time taking into account possible changes due to increasing age," explained researcher Ingela Lindh. "We found there was a significant difference in the severity of dysmenorrhoea depending on whether or not the women used combined oral contraceptives."
Pain and other symptoms were measured by two different scales: VMS (verbal multidimensional scoring system), which grades pain as none, mild, moderate or severe, and also takes into account the effect on daily activity and whether any painkillers were required; and VAS (visual analogue scale), where a woman can grade her degree of pain on a 10 cm line that starts with "no pain at all" and ends with "unbearable pain."
"We found that combined oral contraceptive use reduced dysmenorrhoea by 0.3 units, which means that every third woman went one step down on the VMS scale, for instance from severe pain to moderate pain, and which meant that they suffered less pain, improved their working ability and there was a decrease in the need for analgesics. On the VAS scale there was a reduction in pain of nine millimetres," said Lindh.
Independent of the effect of COC use, the researchers found that increasing age reduced the severity of dysmenorrhoea but not as much as COC did; it shifted women down 0.1 units on the VMS scale and five millimetres on the VAS scale. Childbirth also seemed to reduce the severity of symptoms.
"Painful periods occurs frequently, particularly in young women where as many as 50-75 percent suffer from dysmenorrhoea. It can have a detrimental effect on these women's lives, causing regular absenteeism from school and work, and interfering with their daily activities for several days each month. Information about the effects of COC use on painful periods should be included in contraceptive counselling, as it has been shown that women who experience a beneficial effect of COCs other than contraception, such as a reduction in dysmenorrhoea, are more likely to continue with the pill," concluded Lindh.
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Source: University of Gothenburg