How is abnormal menstruation (periods) treated?
The treatment of abnormal menstruation depends on the underlying cause:
- Regulation of the menstrual cycle: Hormones such as estrogen or progestin might be prescribed to help control heavy bleeding.
- Pain control: Mild to moderate pain or cramps might be lessened by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Aspirin is not recommended because it might cause heavier bleeding. Taking a warm bath or shower or using a heating pad might help to relieve cramps.
- Uterine fibroids: These can be treated medically and/or surgically. Initially, most fibroids that are causing mild symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers. If you experience heavy bleeding, an iron supplement might be helpful in preventing or treating anemia. Low-dose birth control pills or progestin injections (Depo-Provera®) may help to control heavy bleeding caused by fibroids. Drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists may be used to shrink the size of the fibroids and control heavy bleeding. These drugs reduce the body’s production of estrogen and stop menstruation for a while. If fibroids do not respond to medication, there are a variety of surgical options that can remove them or lessen their size and symptoms. The type of procedure will depend on the size, type and location of the fibroids. A myomectomy is the simple removal of a fibroid. In severe cases where the fibroids are large or cause heavy bleeding or pain, a hysterectomy might be necessary. During a hysterectomy, the fibroids are removed along with the uterus. Other options include uterine artery embolization, which cuts off the blood supply to the active fibroid tissue.
- Endometriosis: Although there is no cure for endometriosis, over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers may help to lessen the discomfort. Hormone treatments such as birth control pills may help prevent overgrowth of uterine tissue and reduce the amount of blood loss during periods. In more severe cases, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist or progestin may be used to temporarily stop menstrual periods. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove excess endometrial tissue growing in the pelvis or abdomen. A hysterectomy might be required as a last resort if the uterus has been severely damaged.
There are other procedural options which can help heavy menstrual bleeding. A five-year contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD), called Mirena®, has been approved to help lessen bleeding, and can be as effective as surgical procedures such as endometrial ablation. This is inserted in the doctor’s office with minimal discomfort, and also offers contraception. Endometrial ablation is another option. It uses heat or electrocautery to destroy the lining of the uterus. It is usually only used when other therapies have been tried and failed. This is because scars from the procedure can make monitoring the uterus more difficult if bleeding persists in the future.