Concern about side effects and health issues are common reasons for contraceptive non-use or discontinuation. Contraceptive-induced menstrual bleeding changes (CIMBCs) are linked to these concerns. Research on women’s responses to CIMBCs has not been mapped or summarized in a systematic scoping review.
We conducted a systematic scoping review of data on women’s responses to CIMBCs in peer-reviewed, English-language publications in the last 15 years. Investigator dyads abstracted information from relevant studies on pre-specified and emergent themes using a standardized form. We held an expert consultation to obtain critical input. We provide recommendations for researchers, contraceptive counselors, and product developers.
We identified 100 relevant studies. All world regions were represented (except Antarctica), including Africa (11%), the Americas (32%), Asia (7%), Europe (20%), and Oceania (6%). We summarize findings pertinent to five thematic areas: women’s responses to contraceptive-induced non-standard bleeding patterns; CIMBCs influence on non-use, dissatisfaction or discontinuation; conceptual linkages between CIMBCs and health; women’s responses to menstrual suppression; and other emergent themes. Women’s preferences for non-monthly bleeding patterns ranged widely, though amenorrhea appears most acceptable in the Americas and Europe. Multiple studies reported CIMBCs as top reasons for contraceptive dissatisfaction and discontinuation; others suggested disruption of regular bleeding patterns was associated with non-use. CIMBCs in some contexts were perceived as linked with a wide range of health concerns; e.g., some women perceived amenorrhea to cause a buildup of “dirty” or “blocked” blood, in turn perceived as causing blood clots, fibroids, emotional disturbances, weight gain, infertility, or death. Multiple studies addressed how CIMBCs (or menstruation) impacted daily activities, including participation in domestic, work, school, sports, or religious life; sexual or emotional relationships; and other domains.
Substantial variability exists around how women respond to CIMBCs; these responses are shaped by individual and social influences. Despite variation in responses across contexts and sub-populations, CIMBCs can impact multiple aspects of women’s lives. Women’s responses to CIMBCs should be recognized as a key issue in contraceptive research, counseling, and product development, but may be underappreciated, despite likely – and potentially substantial – impacts on contraceptive discontinuation and unmet need for modern contraception.