Menstrual suppression using oral contraceptives: Survey of deployed female aviation personnel

Nicole Powell-Dunford*, Amanda S. Cuda, Jeffrey L. Moore, Mark S. Crago, Patricia A. Deuster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: Increasing numbers of women perform aviation duties in the combat flight environment. Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) afford numerous health and operational benefits, including prevention of anemia and suddenly incapacitating conditions, as well as menstrual suppression when taken continuously. Until now, the use of OCPs in the combat flight environment has not been examined. Methods: An anonymous, voluntary questionnaire was distributed to 62 female U.S. Army aviation personnel who had recently deployed in support of combat flight operations to characterize continuous OCP use and perceived barriers to this practice, as well as to determine associations with menstrual burden. Results: There were 81% (N = 50) of the women who had personal experiences using OCPs and 93% (N = 58) were aware that continuous use can suppress menstruation. For deployment, 66% (N = 41) desired menstrual suppression, yet only 33% (N = 20) reported any OCP use. Even fewer (15%; N = 10) reported using continuously. Of the women who did not use OCPs continuously, 35% had insufficient knowledge about OCPs and 44% of women reported difficulty in remembering to take a daily pill. Continuous OCP users were more compliant (P = 0.019), reported less spotting (P = 0.007) and fewer unexpected menstrual cycles (P = 0.03) than conventional OCP users. A trend toward reduced cramping was noted (P = 0.064). Most women (60%) desired standardized entry-level education about menstrual suppression through OCPs. Conclusions: The use of continuous OCPs is low in deployed women with aviation-related duties, yet a majority desires menstrual suppression. Continuous OCP use in this setting is associated with significantly improved compliance and significant reductions in specific menstrual burdens. Entry-level education is desirable and may reduce barriers to continuous OCP use by addressing risks, side effects, and daily pill adherence strategies. Flight surgeons should provide further education and consider continuous OCP dosing in the austere environment of combat flight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)971-975
Number of pages5
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Volume80
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Combat
  • Continuous use
  • Flight
  • Menstruation
  • Oral contraceptive pill

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