FDA approval of a pill specifically designed for such a cycle may not be far off. Within about three years, doctors may be able to prescribe a pill that will limit a woman's menstrual periods to four a year.
Early next year, Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., working with Barr Laboratories in Pomona, N.Y., will begin a 1,350-woman, 12-month clinical trial for a new birth control pill called Seasonale.
Seasonale contains a combination of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, that already are available in oral contraceptives. To reduce her periods from 13 (birth control pills usually create 28-day cycles) to four a year, a woman would take the pill for 84 consecutive days and then skip a week.
Although it won't apply to great numbers of women, perhaps one of the best reasons to eliminate--or reduce--the number of periods could be to avoid more-drastic surgical options, such as hysterectomy, for women with excessive monthly blood loss or problems such as fibroids, Shoupe says. "The more options we have, the better," she adds.
Of course, a woman should talk to her doctor if she is thinking about reducing her number of periods or stopping them altogether.
As always, there are some women who should not take birth control pills at all. Women older than 35 who smoke and women with liver disease, high blood pressure or problems with blood clots are generally advised to avoid them. And some doctors advise against birth control pills for women with a strong family history of breast cancer.
In any event, women on birth control pills should have regular checkups, whether or not they're also having periods.