Have you ever added a wedding, beach vacation or sporting event to your calendar — only to realize your period is likely to show up at the same time?
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You may have heard high doses of ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs can stop or delay your period for a special event. Do they work, and are they safe?
“While anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen may reduce or even delay your periods, there are no guarantees,” says Ob/Gyn Rebecca Russell, MD. “And the medicines will likely affect each person differently.”
Here, she answers common questions about which options are best, and when:
Q: How do anti-inflammatories delay your period?
A: Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that trigger the uterus to contract and shed the endometrium (uterine lining) each month.
However, anti-inflammatories can delay your period for no more than a day or two.
Q: How much ibuprofen does it take to stop a period?
A: Stopping a period would require a higher dose than any over-the-counter bottle recommends: about 800 milligrams of ibuprofen, every six hours, or 500 milligrams of naproxen, three times a day. This would have to be done very regularly.
Q: Is this something you’d recommend to patients?
A: I have not seen this proposed in any medical journals, and I would not advise patients to try this on their own.
If you want to delay your period, your doctor can instead prescribe the hormones progesterone or estrogen, or a combination of the two. Some formulations can delay a period by a couple of weeks; others for only a few days, depending on your needs.
Other options include birth control medications that suppress periods for a couple of months.
A non-hormonal medicine (an anti-prostaglandin called tranexamic acid) is also available. However, it only decreases blood flow by about 50%.
Q: Can ibuprofen help reduce heavy periods?
A: We do recommend high-dose anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen to slow down heavy periods. They have some potential to help in the short term. But they only slow the flow by about 10 to 20%.
While we recommend ibuprofen a lot for women with significant cramping, most of them don’t notice major changes in their flow.
Q: How do you know which option is best for a special event?
A: The options might vary, depending on how far in advance the patient consults us.
If patients contact us a couple of months ahead of an event, birth control is likely their best chance to reliably delay a period. If they ask for help a week or two in advance, a high dose of progesterone can delay their period for a week or so.
But remember: Everybody is different. Some women can skip periods for a whole year, and have no bleeding, on certain treatments. Some can only delay periods for two to three weeks, and then will start to get breakthrough bleeding.
For others, we can’t ever completely stop their periods, but we can slow or delay them.
Q: Does taking high doses cause side effects?
A: High doses of ibuprofen can result in kidney damage, edema (swelling) or stomach ulcers. If you’re on blood thinners, it could increase your risk of bleeding.
But most young, healthy women should have no significant problems from doing high doses once in a while (or, if flow is heavy, a couple of days each month).
Before trying any new medication or taking a higher-than-prescribed dose, however, be sure to talk to your doctor about your best options and the potential side effects.