People do not reach menopause itself until a year after their last menstruation.
They may get the typical symptoms of menopause at this time, including hot flashes, irregular periods, and sleep problems. However, the use of hormonal contraceptives can mask these symptoms, or cause side effects that people may confuse with natural hormone fluctuations.
Read on for the answers to some common questions about how birth control pills can affect the symptoms of menopause.
Why do birth control pills affect symptoms?
Birth control pills contain synthetic versions of hormones that decline during menopause.
Menopause occurs due to a decline in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are the two hormones responsible for a person's menstrual cycle. These hormones also help to support a developing pregnancy.
Birth control pills contain synthetic forms of one or both of these two hormones. Combination pills contain both types of hormone. Taking these hormones can prevent the body from recognizing the natural decline in estrogen and progesterone that occurs during menopause.
As a result, the symptoms that a person typically experiences during perimenopause may not be as apparent or noticeable if they are taking birth control pills. One such symptom is an irregular period, which is extremely common during this stage.
However, a person who is taking the minipill, which only contains a synthetic form of progesterone, may be more likely to experience irregular bleeding and hot flashes during early menopause.
Will I still experience regular menopause symptoms?
The hormones in combination birth control pills will help to regulate the menstrual cycle and hormones, which will prevent many of the symptoms of menopause.
It is possible, however, that the pill will cause side effects that are very similar to the symptoms of hormone fluctuation. These can include:
- mood swings
- decreased libido
- changes in appetite
People may also experience irregular periods or spotting between cycles, especially if they are taking the minipill.
It is menopause or birth control causing the symptoms?
After a person stops taking the pill, it may take a few months for hormones to readjust.
It can be hard to tell if some symptoms are side effects of the synthetic hormones, or are due to natural hormone fluctuations in the body.
One way to check would be to stop taking the birth control pill to allow the body's natural cycle to resume. It can take some time for the natural hormones to kick back in and for regular menstrual cycles to begin again.
If symptoms continue when someone stops taking the birth control pill, including irregular bleeding, it is likely that they are going through perimenopause. Conversely, if the symptoms go away, these were probably side effects of the pill.
When coming off the pill, it is essential to wait at least a few months to give the hormones time to readjust.
It is important to recognize the possibility that the birth control pill was masking perimenopause or menopause. If this is the case, then menstruation will no longer occur if a person stops taking the pill.
How can I tell if I've reached menopause?
If a person is on birth control, there is no way to know for sure. Someone who is taking the pill may still have regular periods because of the hormones in the medication.
The average age of menopause is around 51 years old. Some doctors may recommend that a person stops taking the pill around this age to see if they have reached menopause yet.
However, someone stopping the pill at this age should still use contraception during sex until menopause is confirmed.
What should I expect when I reach menopause?
Menopause occurs when a person no longer has menstrual periods. The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. This can begin up to 15 years before menopause.
The signs that a person is approaching menopause include:
- night sweats
- hot flashes
- mood swings
- anxiety or depression
- changes in sex drive
- vaginal dryness
- thinning skin
Going through menopause can increase the risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Therefore, it is imperative to stay in touch with a doctor both during and after menopause.
Are there are any treatments available?
Herbal supplements, such as evening primrose oil, may help to relieve menopause symptoms.
Each person's experience of menopause is different. Menopause symptoms will affect and bother some people more than others.
One of the main treatments for menopause symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This involves taking forms of estrogen and progesterone to mimic the natural menstrual cycle.
HRT can help reduce or prevent the symptoms relating to declining estrogen levels. HRT does not provide contraception, so if someone needs contraception and also desires relief from perimenopause symptoms, birth control pills can be ideal for treatment.
However, medication is not always necessary. Some people find relief from home remedies, which may include:
- reducing caffeine intake
- using ice packs to manage hot flashes
- exercising regularly
- taking herbal supplements, such as black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, ginseng, kava, and evening primrose oil
- wearing several layers of clothing that are easy to remove
- using a vaginal lubricant during sex
- maintaining an active social life
- finding outlets for stress
- limiting alcohol intake
Menopause is a natural process that all females will go through at some point in their life. However, taking the birth control pill can mask some of the symptoms of menopause, making it difficult for a person to tell if they have reached it.
For many people, it is safe to stay on the birth control pill while transitioning through perimenopause, especially if they do not have a history of:
Staying on birth control during perimenopause is also essential if contraception is necessary.
Generally, it is best for someone who thinks they may be going through menopause to speak to their doctor. The doctor can advise on a person's specific situation and what might be best for them.