Most women have about 450 periods in their lifetime. Most wish they had fewer. Now, women can reduce the number of periods they have and even eliminate them by taking birth control pills in a new way.   Nicknamed the, "no period pill," women can have a period only every three to four months and, in some cases, once a year.  But is it safe?

Standard birth control pills come in packs of 28 pills.  Of those, 21 have hormones that prevent ovulation.  The other seven are placebos containing no hormones at all.  When you finish taking the 21 hormone pills and start taking the placebos, your hormone levels drop and you have a period.  With "no period" (also called continuous-use or extended-use) pills, you eliminate the placebos and keep taking hormones.  That means no periods.  While many doctors have advised women to use their standard pills for continuous use for years, pharmaceutical companies have developed birth control pills intended specifically for continuous use.

These newer pills (including Lybrel, Seasonale and Seasonique) have low-dose hormonal combinations that eliminate periods for the length of time  determined appropriate by women and their health care providers. They're a good choice for women who experience heavy bleeding or cramping, severe premenstrual syndrome or those that want to control their cycles to match their schedule (say, for example, to guarantee "no period" on her wedding day or vacation). 

All hormonal contraceptives come with risks, side effects, and cautions.  "No period" pills are no exception, but the FDA has approved their use for most women and several studies have examined their long-term safety.  It appears that "no period" pills are as safe as standard pills with no long-term health problems associated with eliminating monthly periods.  In some cases, (like women who suffer anemia from heavy menstrual bleeding), it might even be safer than bleeding every month.

What are the risks?  Birth control pills are associated with increased risk for stroke, heart attack and some forms of cancer.  Planned Parenthood says women should not take any kind of birth control pill if they might be pregnant or have a history of breast or liver cancer.  They advise certain women against taking specific types of birth control pills if they have migraines, blood clots or inherited blood-clotting disorders, vein inflammation, history of heart attack, stroke, or certain heart conditions, lupus, liver disease, uncontrolled high blood pressure or extremely bad diabetes.  Women over 35 who smoke or smokers with high blood pressure should not take the pill.

Are there side effects?  Women may experience breakthrough bleeding or spotting with "no period" pills, especially in the first few months of use.  They have the same side effects as standard birth control pills including nausea, weight gain, breast tenderness and mood changes.  Most women tolerate birth control pills very well, making it one of the most popular forms of contraception in the world.  Talk to your health care provider about whether the "no period" pill is right for you.