Continuing to take birth control pills during menopause

There is a myth that birth control pills will delay or prevent menopause. In appearance this is true, but in fact this is untrue. Once a woman's body stops producing estrogen and progestin their natural period will stop. However women who take birth control pills into their menopausal years will still go through menopause – but they might never actually realize it.

Many perimenopausal women in their 40s are told by their doctors to continue taking birth control pills. This is because they still experience natural periods, and could get pregnant. Medical studies show that women who experience heavy or irregular menstruation will also benefit from continuous oral contraceptive use during this time, as their periods will stay regular.

Menopausal women who continue taking birth control pills even after they enter menopause will continue to get enough estrogen and progestin in her body from the pills. So regular periods will occur, even though the ovaries are no longer producing enough female hormones, and she won't be able to get pregnant. At the same time a woman in her 50s taking birth control pills will likely not experience menopausal symptoms – hot flashes, cessation of menstruation, etc. – because her birth control pills will continue to supply her body with estrogen and progestin.

It is important to keep in mind that while missing out on menopause may sound fantastic to many women who are dreading "the change", medical studies show that there are risks associated with continuing the use of contraceptives during menopause – even at low doses - due to the strong amounts of estrogen and progestin in the body.

If you are 50+, I recommend discussing the risks with your doctor before continuing with your birth control pill usage.  Research shows that women who smoke, regularly experience blood clots, have had or currently have breast cancer or heart disease, should cease taking birth control pills – even at very-low-doses birth control pills.

5 comments
Posted by cathy on February 5,2009 at 11:51 PM

My son will be 32 this year and I've been on the pill since his birth - quite some time. However, at 52, I'm healthy, never smoked and have a healthy family history which made me a good candidate for my continued prescription.  I stopped the pill again 4 months ago at the nod of approval from my ob-gyn.  I did this last summer and suffered crying jags over sentimental tv shows!  As soon as I began the pill again I was back to my happy normal self.  This time I'm not sleeping well, either too hot or too cold and periods lasting 15 days now. I've never had to use lubricants that are now my best friend. And not wanting to get pregnant, my husband and I have to "prepare" before sex which is different.    I've been reading your letters and appreciate so much these "conversations" as such,  that I can really relate to. I especially was interested in the information about taking the pill during menopause.  I will definately make a doctor's appointment to discuss this because I was thinking I didn't have alot of options. Your information has prompted me to ask more specific questions and be more of an outspoken participant in my health. Thank you.  

Posted by Mary on February 28,2007 at 10:32 AM
I am 49, and have taken the pill for many years.  My new ob-gyn advised me to quit taking the pill, and I did so.  As a result, I have undergone very uncomfortable mental, emotional and physical changes.  For example,  I am unable to concentrate as well as I once did, feel incredibly detached, and am experiencing night sweats and insomnia.  I have decided to return to a very low dosage pill so that I can feel "normal" again!
Posted by helen thomson on February 25,2007 at 12:36 PM
I am 52 and have been taking birth contol pills last few years.  To find out if I am at menopause, I stopped taking them for 2 months and the hot flashes and irritability are unbearable.  I am back on the pills now and thinking if I should not stop for those 7 days to stop continuation of menstration periods.
Posted by Editor on October 31,2006 at 3:26 PM
Hi Jacqualine. Your concerns are understandable – health-related decisions are often very complicated and weighing the pros and cons isn't always easy. There is no simple, definitive test to determine if a woman is perimenopausal. Some doctors will perform FSH tests to check your hormone levels but may wait until you've been off birth control pills for a few months, and the test will need to be repeated.

Taking birth control pills can mask many of the natural effects of menopause, but low-dose or very-low-dose oral contraceptives might be recommended as a treatment for the symptoms of perimenopause as well as for birth control. However, if you're on birth control pills now and experiencing hot flashes then it's unlikely this is an effective treatment option for you, which is probably why your gynecologist suggested progesterone cream as an alternative.

Eventually you'll most likely want to stop taking birth control pills because of the health risks involved with continuing to use them after menopause is finished. For now, if stopping your birth control use doesn't seem like a reasonable option you might want to ask your doctor about natural therapies, like phytoestrogens and black cohosh. Take a look at some of the blog posts that deal with alternative therapies and natural remedies if you haven't already:
HRT and Herbal Remedies
Menopausal Natural Remedies
Red Skin

I'm not a doctor or familiar with all the ins and outs of your condition, so ultimately your gynecologist is your best resource for coping with perimenopause. If your current doctor seems unresponsive to your needs or you think her recommendations are unreasonable you might want to consider getting a second opinion.
Posted by Jacqualine on October 7,2006 at 9:25 PM
I'm 46, have never been pregnant, and have been taking a low-dose birth control for probably the last 20 years.  Within the last year, I've begun having hot flashes and infrequent night sweats.  I have many other symptoms like bloating, breast tenderness, weight gain, etc.  My new holistic, alternative therapies GYN recommends that I stop taking the pill and begin using progesterin cream to help with the hot flashes.  She has also recommended that I switch to an IUD for birth control or have my spouse get a vasectomy.   None of the options seem like reasonable alternatives.  She has also said she can't really do anything to determine whether I'm in perimenopause or menopause until I agree to stop the pill for a couple of months.  At this point, I'm totally confused about what to do and feel like I'm being pushed into stopping the pill.  I want to do whatever's best - but i don't want to be worried about the possibility of becoming pregnant either.  
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