Irregular periods can be frustrating because you can't predict when they'll come. Up to 90% of women will experience irregular bleeding at some point before they reach menopause.
Irregular periods are characterized by infrequent or too frequent periods, missed periods, or a change in blood flow. Many people treat irregular periods with birth control, but what type of birth control is right for you?
Birth Control Methods for Irregular Periods
Hormonal birth control methods can impact your menstrual cycle, while others don't. When choosing one, consider the symptoms you are experiencing and the irregularity of your menstrual cycle.
Combined birth control pill
This pill combines estrogen and progesterone and is taken for 21 days. During the seven-day break, menstruation will occur. The pill manipulates your natural hormones to prevent ovulation so that any bleeding in the pill break is “withdrawal bleeding” induced by the withdrawal of synthetic hormones in those seven days. Using the pill can make it easier to predict when menstruation will occur.
This is a progesterone-only pill taken continuously over the month, without a break. Ovulation still occurs and therefore you still have a monthly period, but over time, they should become more regular. However, spotting and a change in blood flow are likely to occur.
A sticky patch is placed directly on the skin and releases estrogen and progesterone into the body to prevent ovulation. Three patches are worn during the monthly cycle followed by a “withdrawal bleed” in the fourth week. However, heavier or lighter bleeding is likely. You can choose to not have a hormone-free break and not bleed at all.
This small, flexible ring is inserted into the vagina for three weeks out of the four-week cycle. It releases estrogen and progesterone into the body, preventing ovulation. It's likely to ease cramping and make periods lighter. Again, you can choose to not have a hormone-free break and not bleed at all, but it can lead to serious conditions later in life.
This small rod is placed under the skin of a woman's upper arm for up to three years. The implant consistently releases progesterone into the system, which means that the menstrual cycle can be manipulated. Periods will become lighter and more regular. Some women's periods will stop altogether.
Hormonal intrauterine devices
The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small T-shaped device inserted into a woman's uterus for up to five years. Although traditionally made from copper or other spermicidal materials, new models now release small doses of progesterone into the system and reduce heavy bleeding. Periods will often become very regular or stop altogether, but you may experience irregular bleeding for the first three to six months.
All hormonal birth control carries an increased risk of blood clots. However, the patch and the vaginal ring have significantly higher risk levels than the other methods of contraceptives. They should not be used by smokers, women with a history of blood clots, or women over 35 without consulting a doctor.
For implants and IUDs, which are inserted directly into the body, on the highly unlikely chance you get pregnant, these increase your risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Users of vaginal rings have reported some irritation and small secretions from the vagina, while users of IUDs have noticed that there is a chance that the IUD can dislodge and come out in the first three months of use.
The contraceptive pills leave you with a higher risk of pregnancy, simply because they must be taken at the exact same time every day. If you are off by more than three hours, they may lose their efficacy.
Most methods of hormonal birth control manipulate your monthly period and make your cycle more regular. When beginning any of these, it may take a few months for the body to adjust and for the cycle to regulate. Always talk to your doctor before pursuing any contraceptive treatment to discuss the risks and benefits given your personal medical history.For more information read on irregular periods treatments.
- Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause". November 2007.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
- BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2012). Birth control options for women. Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/birth-control-options-for-women