I used to listen to my friends' period woes with the kind of removed sympathy of someone who had only experienced consistently mild symptoms her entire post-pubescent life. That all changed two years ago when suddenly, my body decided to make up for all that easy living in one fell swoop. Over the course of just a few cycles, my cramps suddenly became unbearably painful and my skin went haywire. But the most debilitating side effect of all was a heavy flow that made me self-conscious enough to go running to my ob-gyn for answers. She recommended that I get an IUD to help mitigate it all, and I've been virtually symptom-free ever since.
While it was ultimately the right one for me, the decision to go on hormonal birth control is highly personal and doesn't necessarily breed universally positive results. Our bodies are all different, after all. But if you do suffer from a heavy flow, it's definitely an option worth discussing with your doctor.
"When taking hormonal birth control, a woman's endometrial lining is often thinner, and as a result, some women may bleed less when menstruating," explains Lakeisha Richardson, MD, a noted ob-gyn who works as a consultant for Allergan's Know Your Birth Control campaign. Still, it's important to remember that this common side effect shouldn't be construed as a cure-all. "Most oral contraception is approved for pregnancy prevention—not heavy periods—and may not be for everyone, and so women should speak with their healthcare providers to determine what birth control option may be right for them," she says.
IUD or the Pill?
Both are often "used as a first-line treatment in gynecology to treat painful and heavy periods," says Byrdie UK contributor Jane Leonard, a general practitioner and cosmetic doctor. But landing on the method right for you is a decision to weigh with your doctor based on your current symptoms and lifestyle. (I wanted a lower-dose hormone option, and I'm also terrible at remembering to take pills every day, which is why we ultimately landed on the Mirena IUD.) There are also certain distinctions to keep in mind upfront.
For example, IUDs tend to cause more bleeding for the first few months after insertion before tapering off. "Over time, women with IUDs may experience a reduction in the number of bleeding and spotting days, although bleeding may remain irregular," says Richardson. If having a regular cycle is more important to you than the hands-off convenience of an IUD, then the pill might be the better option.
That said, "while women taking oral contraceptives may experience more predictable cycles, they may have bleeding or spotting between periods," she adds. "It's also important to note that birth control pills may not be right for everyone, as they can be associated with serious risks, like blood clots, stroke, and heart attack."
The main takeaway: A conversation with your doc is in order. "It is important for women to discuss any questions or concerns about bleeding with their healthcare provider," says Richardson.