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J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2004 Jan;26(1):19-24.

Ovarian follicular development during the use of oral contraception: a review.

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Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, College of Medicine, Royal University Hospital, Saskatoon SK.


Over the past 40 years, alterations to the composition of oral contraceptives (OCs) have been made in attempts to reduce adverse effects and to improve patient compliance while maintaining contraceptive efficacy. However, there is growing evidence to indicate that reducing the estrogen dose to minimize adverse effects may have compromised the degree of hypothalamo-pituitary-ovarian suppression, particularly during the hormone-free interval (HFI) or following missed doses. Follicle development during OC use appears to occur in association with a loss of endocrine suppression during the HFI. This information provides a rationale for reducing or eliminating the HFI in OC regimens. There is also evidence for an increased risk of follicle development and ovulation in women who use delayed OC initiation schemes, such as the "Sunday Start" method. It is not currently known why some follicles ovulate during OC use while others regress or form anovulatory follicle cysts. Continued research about follicle development during OC use would provide insight into understanding the precise mechanisms of action underlying combined OCs, as well as those of continuous OC formulations and emergency contraceptive regimens.

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