But did you know that there are several other reproductive health conditions that can be improved or prevented with the use of these hormones? According to American Family Physician's update on oral contraceptives, "The non contraceptive benefits (and favorable side effect profiles) of oral contraceptive pills are so important that some patients use the pills exclusively for those reasons."
The conditions for which the American Academy of Family Physicians endorses the use of oral contraceptives are:
Acne is associated with excessive androgen levels, and oral contraceptives reduce the amount of androgen that is available. Just how this works depends on the specific hormone combination in a particular oral contraceptive. In a study reported in American Family Physician, 83% of participants who received norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol rated their acne improved after six months. Sales of Ortho Tri-Cyclen have tripled since the results of this study were published, and the FDA gave Johnson & Johnson the right to sell Ortho Tri-Cyclen for the treatment of acne. Estrostep and Yaz are other options.
Oral contraceptives may be used to treat cyclic breast pain -- that is, pain that is associated with a woman's menstrual cycle.
While the FDA does not approve of oral contraceptives prescribed primarily for the relief of cramps, women who use The Pill rarely experience menstrual cramps.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is clear controversy about whether oral contraceptives prevent ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg fails to implant itself in the uterus, most often remaining in the fallopian tubes.
Combined oral contraceptives are an effective treatment for endometriosis. Unfortunately, the side effects of this treatment -- which include irregular bleeding, fluid retention, and depression -- have made this option unbearable for many women.
Functional Ovarian Cysts
These are the most common type of ovarian cyst and usually dissolve within two menstrual cycles without treatment. Oral contraceptives may help prevent this type of ovarian cyst by preventing ovulation.
Women who experience abnormal uterine bleeding can often regulate their menstrual cycle with oral contraceptives, if after close medical investigation the abnormal bleeding is not found to be a symptom of a more serious condition.
Oral contraceptives block the surge of hormones that occurs before ovulation, and are often effective for relieving mid-cycle or ovulation pain.
Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer
Women who use oral contraceptives experience these types of cancer at about half the rate of non-users. However, it's important to note that there may be an increased risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer in women who use oral contraceptives for more than five years.
Many women experience fewer symptoms of PMS while using oral contraceptives. However, other treatments and lifestyle modifications that may also provide relief should be considered.
Uterine Fibroid Tumors
According to the National Library of Medicine, oral contraceptives may be an effective treatment for uterine fibroid tumors.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
These drugs may also help improve this problem in women who have very heavy periods.
Oral contraceptives may not be the right choice for everyone. For some women, the side effects of oral contraceptives may be worse than their original symptoms. There is controversy among some healthcare professionals about using synthetic hormones for these purposes when more natural options for many of these conditions exist.
If you think oral contraceptives might be right for treating your reproductive health problems, discuss your personal medical history with your physician.
AAFP. Benefits and Risks Of OCs Beyond Contraception. http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040501/tips/20.html. Accessed 07/20/09.
AAFP. Update On Oral Contraceptives. http://www.aafp.org/afp/991101ap/2073.html. Accessed 07/20/09.