Women's Health Week: Reproductive Health and Menopause

We're covering decades of women's health today, from birth control to menopause.

We'll start with birth control. Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever pill that will allow women to get rid of their periods for good.

It's called "Lybrel."

This will be the fourth birth control pill the FDA has approved to alter a woman's normal menstrual cycle, and its makers expect it'll be available by this summer.

Lybrel would eliminate periods and some PMS symptoms by giving women a low dose of hormones every day; not in 21-day cycles like traditional birth control pills.

It's different than other new contraceptives. "Seasonale" reduces periods to about four a year. "Yaz" and "Loestrin" cut the duration of each period to about three days.

Dr. Susan Wood, a former FDA assistant commisioner for woman's health says, "For those women who would like to reduce their numbers of periods because they have problems during menstruation, cramps, bloating, other symptoms or they would just prefer to have fewer periods, this provides one more option."

Women and researchers have raised concerns that suppressing menstrual cycles for months or years on end is unnatural.

Dr. Robert Barbieri, an OB/GYN from Brigham and Women's Hospital say it's not. "The lining of the uterus, where the blood comes from, goes into hibernation when you take Lybrel every day. So there's nothing in the lining of the uterus to slough off and have the menstrual bleeding," Barbieri says.

What about after Lybrel? In a trial of 187 patients, all but two got their regular periods back or became pregnant within three months of stopping the drug.

However, there's little data on Lybrel's long-term effects.

Almost one in five women who tested Lybrel experienced break-through bleeding, trading predictable, but unwanted monthly cycles for more unpredictable and sporadic bleeding.

Wyeth pharmaceuticals, Lybrel's manufacturer, plans to start selling it in July, marketing first to doctors.

The company has not announced what it will cost.

To answer questions on reproductive health and menopause, Alabama Live spoke with Judy Loughridge, a registered nurse and OB educator.

Watch the video extra "Reproductive Health" to hear her answers to questions like these:

1. How safe are all these new forms of birth control?

2. Birth control risks and benefits

3. Long-term effects

4. Are there side effects women should expect when going on birth control?

5.  What should women who want to be moms one day be doing now?

Watch the video extra "Menopause" for her answers to questions like these:

1. A woman's period typically stops but what is really happening in a woman's body when we hit menopause?

2. What age do most women begin to experience menopause and what should they expect?

3. there's been so much debate about hormone replacement therapy.. In your opinion .. Good or bad?

4. What can be done to make the transition go as smoothly as possible?