Hormonal birth control pills can be used to delay or eliminate some menstrual periods, especially for women who experience heavy bleeding or prolonged menstrual periods, but according to researchers, university students are altering birth control schedules without the knowledge or advice of the prescribing physician. The study, completed with the help of students from the University of Oregon, was published in the journal Contraception.

Researchers emailed nearly 12,000 female students enrolled at the University of Oregon. All the students were 18 and older. Of the 12,000 emails, 1,719 were returned and 1,374 reported using birth control currently or in the near past. Seventeen percent of the responders claimed taking birth control pills on a schedule other than the one prescribed. Half of the 17% reported skipping the inactive pills to prevent menstruation, but less than 50% of those women learned about altering birth control dosage from a healthcare provider. That means more than half of women are choosing to alter birth control doses based on information from sources outside of the medical community. 

The most popular reason university students chose to modify birth control schedules was to avoid menstruation for convenience, not because of menstrual symptoms. Though birth control can be safely and effectively used to delay or prevent menstruation, patients need to be educated on the proper means of doing so and, in some cases, be prescribed proper oral birth control to reduce the total number of menstrual cycles. It is not safe for any women to alter birth control intake unless she has spoken with the prescribing physician about such a regime. 

Source: Hannah Lakehomer, Paul F. Kaplan, David G. Wozniak, Christopher T. Minson. Characteristics of scheduled bleeding manipulation with combined hormonal contraception in university students. Contraception, 2013. DOI:10.1016/j.contraception.2012.12.012.