Q: I'm a 29-year old female with a history of irregular periods and severe PMS. My doctor has suggested oral contraceptives, but I have been very reluctant to take them because I have heard so many stories about negative side effects.  Can they actually help me regulate my periods and moods--and more importantly, are they safe?

A: First of all, I would like to stress that you are definitely not alone.  According to the National Women's Health Resource Center, approximately 10 million women (or 20 percent) in the United States suffer from problem periods, which, when combined with severe PMS, can greatly reduce the number of healthy productive days that women may enjoy each month.

Oral contraceptives are a common and effective method of controlling PMS and bleeding irregularities.  The recent advances in hormone technology have made it possible for most women to have periods that are short in duration, usually one or two light days, or no period at all.  And the answer is yes; it is safe to have a light period or no period at all, despite a common misconception in many cultures that the period is a process of cleansing and contributes to overall health.  By controlling the cycles hormonally, there is no build-up of the lining of the uterus, thus there is no shedding or bleeding.  However, this is actually quite healthy, largely due to the fact that there is no pain, bloating, cramping, or risk of excessive blood loss and anemia.

Yet another option for women of any age that have already had children is endometrial ablation delivered by the NovaSure System.  Ablation is a technique which removes the lining of the uterus by accessing it through the cervix.  When performed by a qualified physician, it is a safe, effective, and virtually painless procedure that requires minimal recovery time, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) actually recommends that it be considered as a first-line treatment for women with problem periods caused by heavy menstrual bleeding.  A recent study showed that seven years after undergoing the NovaSure procedure, approximately 97 percent of women experienced satisfactory results which also eliminated the need for additional intervention, namely hormonal contraceptives or hysterectomy. Additionally, 70 to 80 percent of women following this simple 90-second procedure will never have another period. 

As always, it is advised that you consult with your physician to explore these and other options--and before you enter into any treatment plan.

Dr. Ralph Mayer is a Board-Certified Ob/Gyn and holds his medical degree from UCLA Medical Center.  He completed his Ob/Gyn residency at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and a fellowship in Urogynecology at Harbour UCLA specializing in pelvic surgery and urinary incontinence. Dr. Mayer currently has several locations in the Los Angeles, California area.