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A Birth Control Pill That Eases PMS?

New form of the hormone progestin may hold the key

SUNDAY, July 8, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Imagine a new birth control pill that, besides preventing pregnancy, can alleviate the water retention, moodiness and increased appetite that often go along with pre-menstrual syndrome.

An investigational low-dose oral contraceptive called Yasmin provides just such relief, according to research presented at a recent meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The drug's apparent benefits are attributable to a new type of progestin in the contraceptive, called drospirenone, says Candace Brown, a professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

"Many birth control pills have progestin that causes fluid retention, and sometimes that worsens PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness and some even think emotional symptoms," Brown says.

"The way we think Yasmin is different is that [drospirenone] has diuretic properties that should alleviate fluid retention and that might help with PMS," she adds.

Brown's six-month study was part of a 13-month multi-center evaluation of the contraceptive in which women between 18 and 35 were given Yasmin for 13 menstrual cycles. The women in the study were asked to complete questionnaires at the beginning of the trial and then after six menstrual cycles.

Among the 258 women who completed the study, their scores measuring water retention and other negative effects of PMS were reduced significantly at the end of the six-month period.

In addition, a "statistically significant" number of the women reported a decrease in appetite. Because the study has not yet been published, exact percentages are not available, Brown says.

The most frequently reported side effects linked to the new pill were those commonly associated with other oral contraceptives, including headache and breast pain.

The study was sponsored by Berlex Laboratories, Inc., makers of Yasmin. The drug is now on the market in Europe, but is not yet available in the United States.

Dr. David Grimes, vice president of biomedical affairs at Family Health International, a non-profit family planning organization in Durham, N.C., says Yasmin is attracting attention because of its unique composition. But until more research is conducted, questions remain about its safety and efficacy, he says.

"It's got a new type of progestin, and that's interesting because all of the other birth control pills in the United States only have two different classes of progestin, and they've been around for a long time," Grimes says.

"This is a whole different class of compounds and a very different approach, however," he adds. "What the clinical impact is going to be is unclear. The only important difference that's so far emerged [from previous research] was that in the first randomized trial, women tended not to gain weight with this pill.

"But it's premature now to say whether this is going to be any better or worse than other pills."

What To Do

Visit the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Encyclopedia of Women's Health and Wellness for more information on women's issues.

And visit the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for more on birth control.

SOURCES: Interviews with Candace Brown, Pharm.D., CFNP, professor in the departments of pharmacy practice, obstetrics/gynecology and psychiatry, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis; David Grimes, M.D., vice president of biomedical affairs, Family Health International, Durham, N.C.
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