Abnormal uterine bleeding is a common problem in women’s health. It may present as bleeding that is excess in volume or that occurs at an unexpected time. When a woman sees her physician to evaluate the cause of the abnormal bleeding, the explanation will fall into one of two categories. The first category is an imbalance of hormones (dysfunctional bleeding) that may be treated with hormones such as oral contraceptives or progesterone. The second category is an anatomic change involving a new growth of tissue in the uterus, such as polyps or fibroids (benign muscle tumors), or less commonly, cancer that can develop in the uterine lining. The evaluation may include a pelvic exam (with a pap smear if one has not been done recently), lab work including a pregnancy test, complete blood count, and occasionally hormone tests that check the function of the thyroid and pituitary glands. Pelvic ultrasound is a very useful test, showing the anatomy of the uterus and ovaries. A sonohysterogram is a procedure in which sterile saline is advanced through the cervix into the uterine cavity during the ultrasound. This allows a detailed image of the uterine cavity and may reveal small changes in the lining. An endometrial biopsy may be performed to assess for pre-cancers, cancers, or infection within the lining of the uterus. This specimen is then sent to the pathologist for evaluation. If the pathologist sees evidence of cancer, the treatment plan will include urgent consultation with a cancer specialist and surgery that includes a hysterectomy and cancer staging procedure.
Most often, the abnormal bleeding is found to be due to a benign cause. If cancer has been ruled out, benign growths in the uterine cavity can be removed through an out-patient surgical procedure called hysteroscopy, where a fiber-optic device inserted through the cervix can be used to remove abnormal tissue and restore the uterus to a healthy condition. In cases of dysfunctional bleeding where hormonal treatment does not resolve the problem, a good surgical option is endometrial ablation, a minor procedure where the uterine lining is destroyed. For many women, endometrial ablation is a good alternative to hysterectomy due to the rapid recovery and conservation of normal anatomy.
In summary, abnormal uterine bleeding is a common problem that can be evaluated and managed by hormonal or surgical treatment, depending on the findings. Women who develop abnormal bleeding should promptly see advice from their health care providers for timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.