1. Health
Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

The Beneficial Link Between Contraception and Chronic Illness

By February 28, 2012

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In early February, one of my fellow About.com Guides, Amber Tresca, the Guide to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), posted a call for a blog carnival focusing on ways that children and teens are affected by chronic illness. I know, I realize many of you are sitting there thinking what does chronic illness have to do with contraception. Yet, let's think about this for a moment... suffering from a chronic condition can have debilitating effects -- this can especially be the case for children or teenagers.

There are some persistent conditions that can greatly impact the lives of teenage girls:

Though some of these conditions may only have more emotional effects of young girls... like the embarrassment of a face full of acne or unwanted facial hair growth, some of these other chronic conditions can also be physically difficult to deal with. Endometriosis can be extremely painful, and teenagers may have to miss school because the pain is too severe to effectively pay attention in class. Teen girls who suffer from very heavy periods can be at risk for iron deficiency anemia due to the high volume of blood loss. Adolescent girls who suffer from PMS or PMDD or have dysmenorrhea may experience significant mental and physical discomfort due to the hormonal changes that occur around their menstrual cycle. And what can be more upsetting to a middle school or high school student who realizes that she is on her period because her fellow students are laughing at her blood-stained clothes? This fear can cause a lot of anxiety for a teen who has irregular cycles.

Though none of these are essentially life-threatening conditions, they can greatly affect the lives of female adolescents. Research shows that about 20-40% of women endure negative cycle-related menstrual cycle symptoms. We know that many women miss work each month due to headaches, cramps and just the general discomfort associated with monthly periods. This is also the case for teens and school. Think about it... †if one girl has to miss school just one day each month due to her period, that can potentially be 10 days of missed instruction over a school year. And what is she has an important test that she cannot miss? Her performance can be certainly compromised of she is suffering from one of these chronic conditions.

The good news is that CONTRACEPTION may be able to play a significant role in managing some of these conditions -- yes, I told you earlier there was a link!! Certain hormonal birth control methods can provide relief for these adolescents. Plus, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently revised its recommendations, suggesting that using long-acting, reversible hormonal contraceptive methods can be beneficial for teens. Besides being part of a treatment plan for certain chronic conditions, these contraceptives tend to be more effective which can also help to reduce teenage pregnancy, for teens who are sexually active. Plus, certain contraceptives even allow teens to safely skip their periods... which can be especially appreciated if there is a big event going on (like prom or a class trip) or even an important test that a teen doesn't want to have her score impacted because she is on her period.

Extended cycle pills like Seasonique and Lybrel can take this even farther by reducing the total number or periods a teen has each year... again, this can be a lifesaver for girls suffering from period-related conditions.

These are some of the issues that we all need to acknowledge considering all of the current debate over contraception being included in health insurance policies. I understand how people may have religious and/or moral objections to contraception, but it is important to be educated on the fact that contraception can have other functions than just preventing babies. While most will not morally object to insurance covering medication that a woman can take to lower her cholesterol or manage her diabetes, that same tolerance should be extended to hormonal contraception -- it offers many non-contraceptive health benefits as well as protection against certain endometrial, ovarian and colorectal cancer. If woman (and teens) are denied affordable access to contraception, many may have to needlessly suffer mentally, emotionally and physically due to these chronic conditions.

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This post is a part of the About.com Health Channel's blog carnival on "chronic illness in children" hosted by About.com Guide to IBD, Amber J Tresca.

Photo © 2012 Dawn Stacey

March 2, 2012 at 12:36 am
(1) learn more now says:

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March 6, 2012 at 4:49 am
(2) trends says:

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