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How Does Birth Control Treat Endometriosis?

Find out the role of birth control (such as oral contraceptives) to treat endometriosis in people who have painful and heavy periods.

Lauren Smith, MAPreeti Parikh, MD
Written by Lauren Smith, MA | Reviewed by Preeti Parikh, MD
Published on October 25, 2021

As many people now know, birth control can do more than help prevent pregnancy. Many people use birth control for health reasons, such as to treat endometriosis.

Currently, there’s no cure for endometriosis. Instead, the treatment for endometriosis typically revolves around reducing symptoms to improve quality of life. Birth control, especially oral contraceptives, play a big role in that.

What is hormonal birth control for endometriosis?

Doctors often prescribe hormonal birth control for endometriosis. That means it uses the hormones progestin and/or estrogen, as opposed to non-hormonal options like the copper intrauterine device (IUD). Types of hormonal birth control include:

How does it work?

Usually, people with endometriosis start with a pill containing both hormones. This works by reducing the growth of endometrium, which is the tissue that’s supposed to grow inside the uterus, but is growing in other areas. (Learn more about how endometriosis affects the body here.)

These growths are what cause endometriosis symptoms. Basically, endometrial tissue grows, swells, and bleeds throughout the menstrual cycle. In fact, this is what causes periods. When this tissue is outside the uterus, it can obstruct other organs or just lead to general pain and swelling. As a result, many find that they have less pain and bleeding when taking hormonal contraceptives that stifle growth of the endometrium.

Some people may have more success with progestin-only contraceptives. If birth control with both progestin and estrogen is ineffective for someone, their doctor might suggest switching to a progestin-only option to see if symptoms improve.

Who is this treatment for?

Birth control isn’t right for everyone with endometriosis. For starters, it isn’t appropriate for people who are trying to conceive. There are other types of treatments that may help people while they are trying to become pregnant, such as surgery and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen).

Otherwise, birth control is considered a great option for most people because it’s affordable, generally well tolerated, and easily accessible. It just might take a few tries to find the right birth control option and the right dose for you.

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