All women of the world have one very special thing in common. No, gentlemen, not (moderate) insanity! This is the lesser of the two evils—monthly menstruation. The only upside to having your period is the cop-out it provides to being, well, a b****. A simple apology (“I’m PMS-ing”) is all it takes to get the green card to Attitude-ville. And let’s not forget that phrase’s golden effect when an unwanted hook-up suddenly comes into the picture. Not many guys are game for a trip downtown when painting-the-town-red suddenly gets literal. So while some girls have it easier than others, most don’t look forward to their period unless they want confirmation that they are indeed not pregnant. So whoever invented the birth control pill that gives you a period every three months, like Seasonique, is a woman, or at least married to one with serious PMS symptoms. But is this pill for real? Dr. Kathryn McAllister, CRNP weighs in on this modern take on the birth control pill.
The Lowdown There
There are several major differences between birth control pills such as Seasonique and traditional birth control pills. With regular birth control pills, women take one pill each day for three weeks, and the fourth week is regulated for menstruation (you’ll take placebo pills during this week). With pills like Seasonique, however, you take the same pill every day for three months. Menstruation is then planned to occur during the last seven days of the pack, during which time a low-dose hormone pill is taken to induce menstruation. While menstruation is expected to be more pleasant on birth control pills in general, on pills such as Seasonique, periods are expected to last only three days. Hallelujah!
The Benefits of Seasonal Birth Control Pills
Seasonique goes a long way. It not only lengthens the time during which you don’t have a period, but it also takes with it all the ugly side effects of menstruation. Imagine going months without those debilitating cramps! Also, Seasonique is just as effective—99 percent—as most other pills. According to Kathryn McAllister, CRNP, pills and injections that make you have fewer periods have their perks. She says, “I think it's a great option for women who need to avoid a monthly cycle because of medical problems such as endometriosis, menstrual migraine, painful periods, PMS, fibroids and anemia.”
Medically speaking, Seasonique can alleviate a lot of discomfort associated with certain conditions. Practically speaking, McAllister suggests, “It's also nice to avoid a period for special events, vacations, traveling or athletic events. Another benefit is the decreased expense for tampons, pads, pain medicine and days off from work.” It seems like the magic birth control pill! But before you pick up your phone to make an appointment with your gyno, consider the possible setbacks to taking pills that operate like Seasonique.
The Disadvantages of Seasonique
The glamour of these types of birth control pills can run out fast. As annoying and inconvenient as a monthly period may seem, it is also very human. Our cycles remind us that we are women and that our body is working efficiently and naturally in all its magnificence. Suddenly getting a period every three months throws off the cyclical nature of menstruation and can make it feel almost unnaturally systemized and artificial. There is a reason we get our periods once a month—why mess around with a perfectly natural phenomenon? many wonder. McAllister notes other practical disadvantages: “Some of the disadvantages are unscheduled bleeding, but this usually resolves over time, and the absence of regular menses; some women like to have a monthly cycle.”
Bleeding between cycles oftentimes resembles a period itself, and that kind of defeats the point of this particular pill anyway. But even more frightening of all is the inability to tell whether you are pregnant or not without getting tested. While the monthly cycle can either confirm or reject your suspicions in a timely manner, a three month cycle makes the wait a bit more anxiety-driven. What a wake-up call it would be to find out you are three months pregnant after one missed period. While an effective birth control method, Seasonique, like all other birth control methods, is not foolproof and so using another backup method (like a condom) is always a good idea. Other serious risks of this pill include blood clots, stroke, and heart attack, though this is the case for almost all types of birth control pills.
Seasonique also has a cousin that comes in the form of an injection. The Depo-Provera Shot (aka DMPA) is a hormone injection that prevents pregnancy for three months. The injection is oftentimes given in the arm, hip, upper thigh, or abdomen, injecting high levels of hormones into the body. The Depo-Provera Shot is just as effective as a birth control pill. Recent graduate of University of North Carolina at Asheville, Chelsea Madison, once decided to give the shot a go. Chelsea says, “I hated the pill, I always forgot to take it and I hated the idea that it had to go through my entire body everyday to work in one area. The shot was the craziest three months of my life, major mood swings, and weight gain! I would never recommend the shot to anyone for any reason.” The shot is a quick fix that lasts three months, yet the high levels of hormones injected in a single sitting have side effects that may be bothersome to girls (and those in their surroundings)!
What’s Right for You
When it comes down to it, it’s all about what works well for you and your chosen lifestyle. Dr. McAllister says, “It's good to have more choices in birth control that affect the length of the menstrual cycle. Life is busy; it's great to have choices to fit your lifestyle. Ask your GYN provider if it fits yours!”
Like choosing among birth control methods, choosing among birth control pills is a personal choice that should be decided between you and your gynecologist. Being aware of the options, however, can make the choice much easier. If you’re too busy to handle the draining effects of your period every month, then consider a pill like Seasonique. If you can’t imagine going three months without the confirmation of not being pregnant, then stick with the regular birth control pills.
Chelsea now swears by Nuva Rings, which are vaginal insertions that release low dosages of hormones into the system to prevent pregnancy. Chelsea says, “I am on the Nuva Ring, and I love it. I just put one in immediately after I take one out every 30 days. And I don’t have to have a period. My doctor is who encouraged me to do it. I have never had a negative reaction from skipping periods.”
In terms of price, the cost of Seasonique truly depends on what your heath insurance plan is in addition to your co-pay. Keep in mind that while you’re paying for three months of Seasonqiue at a time, you’ll be refilling your prescription only four times a year.
Whatever you choose, the only real difference depends on lifestyle factors. No real danger is inherent in pills like Seasonique, and at the end of the day, whatever you put at risk by using normal birth control pills, the same risks apply when using pills like Seasonique.
Dr. Kathryn McAllister, CRNP -- Allentown, PA
Chelsea Madison, UNC-Asheville 2010