Should I take norethisterone? We asked women about their experiences
Periods can be a pain – both literally and figuratively. That huge summer party next month? Period due. Beach trip? Be a bit rude not to invite your period along. Two weeks finding yourself in Southeast Asia? You can put your money on it that you’ll find your period there too.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you get your period in any of those situations, but sometimes it would just be quite nice to have a bit more control over when your period arrives. Luckily, in recent years, science, and women, have cottoned on to the fact that there is a way of delaying your period: norethisterone.
How does norethisterone work?
Norethisterone belongs to a group of medicines called progestogens, a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone that work to mimic or exaggerate its effects. Taking it to delay your period is pretty basic – your GP can prescribe it to you, and you take three tablets a day starting three days before your period. Once you are back from your holiday, or event, or whatever, you stop taking the tablets and your period should arrive a couple of days later.
In a normal menstrual cycle, periods occur when your levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop. However, if you take progesterone in the form of a norethisterone tablet it extends the cycle, delaying your period and mimicking the effects of pregnancy.1 This is because it provides a sustained level of the hormone in the body, thus preventing the breaking down and shedding of the lining of the womb. Sounds easy enough. But what is it actually like taking norethisterone – and does it work perfectly for everyone?
What do women say about norethisterone?
Cheryl, a 36-year-old blogger and mum of five, first used norethisterone on a weekend away with her friends as she wanted to be able to relax and make the most of a rare weekend without the kids. After searching online she found that most online pharmacies prescribe norethisterone if you simply fill in an online medical questionnaire. “They prescribed it after I filled in a health questionnaire and it was checked over by a doctor,” she says. “But I also had to give them permission to speak to my own doctor.”
Cheryl took the norethisterone as prescribed, and once she stopped taking it her period returned “within three days” and was “just a normal period, not any heavier or more painful”. Cheryl says she would recommend taking norethisterone tablets to other women who find themselves in a similar situation to her. “I was dubious about taking them, but there was no need,” she says. “They haven’t caused me any problems and I would take them again.”
Tanya Barrow, 49, would also recommend norethisterone to others, and has taken norethisterone herself multiple times. The first time she took it was when she was off abroad on a week long charity trip, and her GP was more than happy to prescribe it. “I now visit her once a year and take it a few times a year if we have a long weekend away, or our annual summer holiday over the time my period is due,” Tanya adds.
Tanya was explained potential side effects she might experience, but says she had none, and, like Cheryl, the period she gets after she stops taking them is “no different from a regular period”.
Katie Colella, a 37-year-old business mentor and virtual assistant also uses norethisterone to delay her period when on holiday. She had to have it prescribed by a doctor the first time, but now she just speaks to the nurse at the doctors’ surgery when she needs it, and they arrange a prescription for her. For her it works “perfectly”, although she does suffer from headaches on the last day she takes it, when she takes it for seven days or so. She has even used it as soon as her period started, and says it slows down the bleeding and stops it altogether after two days.
Are there any side effects?
Norethisterone can cause some side effects in some women, that include depressive symptoms, a rise in blood pressure, and migraine-type headaches.2
On top of this, Vikram Sinai Talaulikar, co-founder of the Menopause Clinic London, adds that women shouldn’t take it if they have one of a fairly long list of conditions. These include acute porphyrias, liver tumours, breast cancer (unless synthetic progesterones are being used as part of your treatment), history during pregnancy of jaundice, pruritus or pemphigoid, and severe vascular disease.3 “Caution should be exercised when prescribing to women with known blood clot problems in the past (thromboembolism), heart disease, and history of depression,” adds Mr Talaulikar, but he says that it is safe for “the majority of women”.
For 25-year-old Rachael Daniel, the side effects definitely put her off after she had a bad experience. She first took norethisterone on a school trip when she was 12, and experienced no side effects. However, on the second occasion she says she “turned into an absolute monster”.
After a small dispute with her mum about some sun cream on a family holiday in Spain, she “flipped, screamed and shouted a lot at her”. “I stormed into my bedroom saying ‘I’m going to kill myself’, and I was then beside myself for several hours, all over some sun cream,” Rachael adds. “I hate confrontation and I’m normally a very laid back person, but for the remainder of the holiday I was very snappy and got emotional about the most trivial things.”
Now, Rachael says she wouldn’t wish the emotions she experienced on anyone, although if she was going somewhere remote she would consider using norethisterone again, “but I would ensure the people around me were aware that my mood could change considerably”.
Indeed, Mr Talaulikar points out that some people may be sensitive to progesterone. “They may experience side effects such as acne, breast tenderness, allergic skin reaction, low libido, low mood, fluid retention, hair growth on the chin and lips, and headaches,” he says, adding that for some women delaying your period using norethisterone can also extend symptoms of PMS until you stop taking it.
While it is fine for most women to use once in a while, is it something he would encourage people to use regularly? No, in a word. “Postponing menstruation repeatedly will often lead to menstrual irregularities besides some of the side effects I’ve mentioned,” he says. “If a woman does not want to bleed, there are other safer options available to stop periods, such as injections, implants, or the Mirena coil. Postponement should usually be reserved for times of need, such as exams, events, or travel.”
If you want to use norethisterone once in a while, go for it. However, as with any medication, speak to your doctor before using it – and be aware that you may experience some of the side effects listed. And, of course, don’t let all this talk of hormones trick you into thinking it works as contraception – it doesn’t!
- Wockhardt UK Ltd, Norethisterone 5mg Tablets, Medicinces.org.uk [website], https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/1494 (accessed 27 June 2019)
- NICE, Norethisterone, [website], https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drug/norethisterone.html (accessed 27 June 2019)