Treatment Decisions in the Management of Menorrhagia

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Menorrhagia--menstrual periods lasting longer than 7 days and totaling blood losses greater than 80mL--affects 9%-14% of otherwise healthy women, and it can signal cancer, an endocrinologic disorder, or gynecologic disease. Blood loss can be high enough to result in anemia, fatigue, and syncope. Most often, abnormal uterine bleeding such as menorrhagia involves a disruption in the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, the ovary, and/or the uterus. Other identified causes include medications (especially psychotropics) that cross the blood-brain barrier; chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and liver and kidney dysfunction; endocrine disorders, perimenopausal anovulation, polycystic ovary disease, pituitary tumors, and abnormal estrogen cycling caused by morbid obesity; and anatomic abnormalities of the uterus. Routine tests include hematocrit or hemoglobin to detect and evaluate anemia, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level to evaluate thyroid function as a possible cause, and a pregnancy test to rule out an incomplete, spontaneous abortion as a cause. A Pap test is recommended to screen for dysplasia that can suggest a gynecologic cancer cause. Additional screening for endocrine disorders that may be causing menorrhagia include tests of thyroid, liver, and kidney function, and tests of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), prolactin, and cortisol levels. Treatment can be medical or surgical. Medical treatment includes prostaglandin inhibitors, specifically nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hormonal therapy with estrogen, progesterone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, or oral contraceptives such as medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera). Surgical treatment includes hysteroscopic endometrial ablation by physical agents, laser electrodiathermy, and "roller ball," or surgical, resection. Hysterectomy is the treatment of last resort.

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