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What is Norethisterone?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Norethisterone is a progestin, meaning it is a synthetic version of a type of hormone called progestogen that is produced naturally in the human body by the ovaries and placenta. The most common natural form of progestogen is progesterone, which affects several functions related to the female reproductive system, like pregnancy, embryo development, and menstruation. In the body, norethisterone works much like natural progesterone, and is used in oral birth control, to treat painful and irregular menstruation, to delay a period, and to treat women who experience very heavy bleeding during their period. It is also used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and postmenopausal syndrome. At higher doses, it can be used as a part of breast cancer treatment.

This synthetic hormone was successfully manufactured as early as 1951, and was used in one of the first types of birth control pill to come on the market in the 1960s. As a birth control medication, norethisterone can prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation, meaning the release of an egg from the ovaries, but it is not guaranteed to do so in all women. It also thickens the mucus in the cervix, the narrow part of the uterus where it joins the vagina, and affects the lining of the uterus itself. The thickened mucus in the cervix makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus to fertilize an egg, and the effect on the lining of the uterus makes it more difficult for a fertilized egg to attach itself and develop.

Norethisterone is a common active ingredient in a type of oral contraceptive called the progestogen-only pill (POP), or the mini-pill. It can also be used in combined oral contraceptive pills that include progestogen and another type of hormone called estrogen. Combined oral contraceptive pills prevent ovulation more effectively than norethisterone by itself, but there is an increased risk of blood clots forming in the veins using this type of contraception. Such blood clots are rare, but can be fatal if they are transported by the circulatory system to the lungs. One should consult a physician immediately if experiencing severe headaches, sudden vision changes, swelling of the legs, or chest pains while taking norethisterone.

Common side effects of norethisterone include tender breasts, bloating, and bleeding between regular periods. Less common side effects include nausea, headaches, weight gain, and dizziness. Those with a history of stroke or heart attack or those with liver problems or kidney problems should not take norethisterone.

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Jan 12, 2013

I don't like norethisterone tablets. It gives me terrible PMS symptoms, nausea, bloating, vomiting, the works. I don't recommend it.

By donasmrs — On Jan 11, 2013

@fify-- My close friend used norethisterone to delay her period so that she wouldn't get it on her wedding and it worked.

From what she told me, it's easy to use. I think you're supposed to take the tablets before your period starts and then continue to take it until the time it's okay to have your period.

Why don't you ask your doctor? He or she can prescribe it for you and that way you'll be sure of whether it's safe for you or not.

By fify — On Jan 10, 2013

Has anyone taken norethisterone to delay their period?

I have a one week vacation planned at the beach in three months. It's the only vacation I'll get this year. I think I will get my period during my vacation which means I won't be able to swim for at least four days.

If possible, I want to delay my period so that it happens after my vacation. I've heard that this is possible with norethisterone over-the-counter but how does it work?

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