Birth control hormones relieve endometriosis by stopping ovulation and reducing the endometrium's monthly cycle of growing, shedding, and bleeding. They also affect the endometriosis growths (implants), making them shrink and bleed less. Birth control hormones can also be used to stop or further slow endometriosis growths after endometriosis surgery.
You can get birth control hormones as a pill you take by mouth every day, as a weekly hormone skin patch, or as a monthly vaginal ring.
Birth control hormones are the first-choice treatment for controlling endometriosis growth and pain. This is because birth control hormones are the hormone therapy that is least likely to cause bad side effects. For this reason, they can be used for years. Other hormone therapies can only be used for several months to 2 years.
Like all hormone therapies and surgery, birth control hormones do not cure endometriosis. But they can relieve endometriosis symptoms and are likely to slow the growth of endometriosis.
Birth control hormones improve endometriosis and menstrual pain and bleeding for most women. They are most effective when used to relieve minimal to mild symptoms.
Continuous use of birth control pills is likely to give the most relief.1 About one-third of women who take regular 28-day cycles have pain during the fourth, hormone-free week.
Using birth control hormones for 5 or more years lowers ovarian cancer risk (endometriosis increases ovarian cancer risk).2
Birth control hormones cannot be used to treat infertility caused by endometriosis. They prevent pregnancy.
- Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Endometriosis. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 1221–1248. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Noncontraceptive uses of hormonal contraceptives. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 110. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 115(1): 206–218.
Last Revised: July 7, 2011
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