Abnormal uterine bleeding is any type of bleeding from the vagina that is
not normal. This may mean that you are bleeding at times of the month other
than your period, or that your period is unusually heavy. If you are
changing a pad or tampon more than once every 1-2 hours, your period is
unusually heavy. If your period lasts more than 7 days or fewer than 2 days,
this is also abnormal uterine bleeding.
Abnormal uterine bleeding occurs in most women at some point in their lives.
It is common in older women whose hormones are fluctuating due to the onset
Abnormal uterine bleeding is also common in the first year or two of
menstruation. Vaginal bleeding in girls before the onset of the menses is
abnormal. In postmenopausal women, vaginal bleeding that persists for 12
months after the cessation of the menses is abnormal. Other conditions may
also cause abnormal uterine bleeding.
In general, we should avoid speculation about diagnoses…in particular when
the diagnoses can be fatal.
– Menstrual flow that soaks through one or more sanitary pads or
tampons every hour for several consecutive hours
– The need to use double sanitary protection to control your menstrual
– Menstrual period that lasts longer than 7 days
– Menstrual flow that includes large blood clots
– Heavy menstrual flow that interferes with your regular lifestyle
– Constant pain in your lower abdomen during menstrual period
– Irregular menstrual periods
– Tiredness, fatigue, or shortness of breath (symptoms of anemia)
What are the different types of abnormal uterine bleeding?
Abnormal uterine bleeding is a broad term and there are many different types
that range from very mild to extremely severe. Women who are concerned that
they may have abnormal uterine bleeding, should be seen by their doctor.
– *Pregnancy-related:* Vaginal bleeding that occurs during pregnancy
– *Oligomenorrhea:* Vaginal bleeding occurs at intervals of more than
– *Polymenorrhea:* Vaginal bleeding occurs at intervals of less than
– *Menorrhagia:* Bleeding occurs at normal intervals (21–35 days), but
there is an excessive flow (more than 80 mL) or excessive duration (more
than 7 days)
– *Menometrorrhagia:* Bleeding occurs at irregular intervals and with
heavy flow or duration
– *Metrorrhagia or bleeding intermenstrual:* Irregular bleeding occurs
in between ovulatory cycles
– *Midcycle spotting:* Spotting that can occur just before ovulation,
usually because of a decline in estrogen levels
– *Postmenopausal bleeding:* Bleeding recurs in
at least 1 year after the cessation of the cycles
Return to Top
What causes abnormal uterine bleeding?
Because there are so many different types of abnormal uterine bleeding, the
causes vary greatly. Abnormal bleeding may be caused by certain issues of
the reproductive system. Fibroids and uterine polyps are two common problems
women face. Some women can bleed abnormally as a result of adenomyosis,
which is when the lining of the uterus grows into the wall of the uterus.
Bleeding may be induced by medications, including anticoagulants, selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, hormonal
medications, and tamoxifen (Nolvadex). Herbal substances, including ginseng,
ginkgo, and soy supplements may cause menstrual irregularities by altering
The following table shows other possible causes specifically of the
different types of abnormal uterine bleeding.
Type of bleeding
bleeding during pregnancy
spontaneous pregnancy loss (miscarriage), ectopic pregnancy, placenta
previa, abruptio placentae, and trophoblastic disease.
oligomenorrhea, polymenorrhea, menorrhagia, menometrorrhagia
thyroid, hematologic, hepatic, adrenal, pituitary, and hypothalamic
uterine polyps, submucous myomas, endometrial hyperplasia, cancer
chromosomal abnormalities, problems with the hypothalamus (an area at the
base of the brain that controls bodily functions like the menstrual cycle),
pituitary disease, lack of reproductive organs, structural abnormality of
the vagina, stress, low body weight, thyroid malfunction, hormonal
imbalance, illness, pregnancy, excessive exercise, eating disorders
dysfunctional uterine bleeding (DUB)
Return to Top
Women and abnormal uterine bleeding: the statistics
– Menstrual disorders were the reason for 19.1% of 20.1 million visits
to physician offices for gynecologic conditions over a 2-year period.
– A reported 25% of gynecologic surgeries involve abnormal uterine
– In girls who experience abnormal uterine bleeding before the onset
of menstruation, many cases involve lesions of the reproductive system, and
some of these lesions may be malignant. In these cases, a thorough
evaluation must be done.
– Menstrual irregularities are associated with thyroid disease.
Return to Top
Ask your healthcare provider
Diagnosis and Treatment
Because there are so many possible causes of abnormal uterine bleeding,
there are also many diagnosis techniques. Your healthcare provider will
consider your age and your medical history when he/she chooses the
diagnostic tests to order. If you may be pregnant, that will be the first
test. It is a cheap and easy test, and is a common cause of abnormal uterine
– *Ultrasound:* by doing an ultrasound exam of your pelvic area, the
doctor will be able to see the uterus and ovaries. This may help locate the
cause of the bleeding.
– * Endometrial biopsy:* This procedure is done by inserting a thin
plastic tube (catheter) into the uterus. A section of the uterine lining
(endometrium) is removed and sent to the lab. The test will show any changes
in the cells, or if there are any cancerous cells.
– *Hysteroscopy:* A thin tube is inserted into the uterus. At the end
of the tube is a tiny camera. The camera lets your doctor see the inside of
your uterus to locate any abnormalities.
– * D & C (Dilation and curettage):* During this procedure, your
cervix is stretched open so that a surgical tool can be inserted into the
uterus. The tool scrapes the lining of the uterus, and the removed lining is
checked for abnormal tissue. If the bleeding is very heavy, a D & C may be
performed both to locate the problem and to treat the bleeding.
Return to Top
Once again, the causes of abnormal uterine bleeding are varied, and
therefore, the treatments also differ greatly. However, the three main
principles can be applied to all women:
1. control bleeding
2. preserve fertility
3. prevent recurrence
*Hormone imbalance:* If your doctor identifies that the problem causing the
bleeding is a hormone imbalance, you may likely be prescribed with hormone
therapy like birth control pills or progesterone.
*Thyroid problems:* Treatment for thyroid problems may help your abnormal
uterine bleeding to abate. Treatments include antithyroid drugs, radioactive
therapy, thyroid surgery, or a thyroidectomy.
* Endometrial ablation:* This treatment involves removal of the lining of
your uterus, either ending menstruation or reducing your menstrual flow.
Endometrial ablation is effective in stopping abnormal bleeding, but doesn’t
affect fibroids outside the interior lining of the uterus.
*Polyps:* Uterine polyps can be removed in two ways. Surgical removal of the
polyps entails the doctor inserting special instruments into the uterus to
cut away and remove polyps. The removed polyp may then be sent to the lab
for examination. If there are too many polyps to remove, if the doctor is
unable to reach all the polyps, or if it is discovered that the polyps are
cancerous, then it is possible that a hysterectomy is the best treatment.
This is a complete removal of the uterus.
Uterine fibroids are often harmless that no treatment may be necessary,
though women should be aware that they have them and note any changes or
symptoms. Medications for uterine fibroids target hormones that regulate the
menstrual cycle. They may shrink fibroids and reduce abnormal uterine
bleeding. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (Gn-RH agonists) causes
estrogen and progesterone levels to fall, often stopping menstruation
*DUB treatment (dysfunctional uterine bleeding)*
– Estrogens, progestins, oral contraceptives
– GnRH agonists
– Levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG-IUS)
– Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
– Antifibrinolytic agents
Dealing with abnormal uterine bleeding
Abnormal uterine bleeding can be painful, uncomfortable, and inconvenient,
but it does not need to take over your life. In addition to the treatments
that may be available to you, you can be proactive in making yourself feel
– *Get your rest*. Your doctor may recommend rest if bleeding is
excessive and disruptive to your normal schedule or lifestyle.
– *Keep a record*. Record the number of pads and tampons you use so
that your doctor can determine the amount of bleeding. Change tampons
regularly, at least every 4 to 6 hours.
– *Avoid aspirin*. Because aspirin may promote bleeding, avoid it.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) often is more effective than aspirin in
relieving menstrual discomforts.
– * Stay informed*. Get your blood count and iron levels measured
every year to make sure they are normal. Also stay informed about new
– *Iron supplements
*. If your iron levels are low, ask your doctor about taking
supplements to counteract anemia.
– *Eat healthfully and exercise*. A healthful diet, together with
exercise and enough rest, will help keep you in your best shape.
Return to Top
Frequently asked questions
* What is hysteroscopy?*
Hysteroscopy is a diagnostic or therapeutic technique that allows doctors to
visualize anatomic abnormalities in the uterus via a telescopic instrument.
To aid in the visualization process, the healthcare professional may
introduce water and carbon dioxide gas into the uterus to make visualization
* What is abnormal uterine bleeding?*
Abnormal uterine bleeding can occur in women of all ages. It can be defined
as the following:
– Cycles lasting less than 21 days. Menstrual cylces that are greater
than 7 days
– Average blood loss greater or equal to 80 mL per cycle
– Any deviation from a woman’s regular cycle
* What causes abnormal uterine bleeding?*
Abnormal uterine bleeding can be caused by hormonal irregularities without a
clear or defined anatomical abnormality, or functional bleeding, where there
is a clear anatomical cause, including polyps, submucus fibroids, or cancer.
* How do you diagnose the cause of abnormal uterine bleeding?*
The initial diagnosis is made in the gynecologist’s office. The gynecologist
will take a detailed history of symptoms and perform a pelvic examination.
There are several tests that can be done in the office including:
– *Uterine sampling or endometrial biopsy:* the removal of small piece
of uterine lining to analyze under a microscope
– *Sonogram:* a picture of the uterus and its lining using ultrasound
(to detect fibroids and polyps)
– *Fluid-enhanced sonogram:* saline injected through the cervix into
the endometrial cavity, then followed by sonogram to show anatomic
abnormalities that push on the cavity
– *Hysterogram:* an X-ray performed by injecting radio opaque liquid
through the cervix. This procedure diagnoses the same structures as the
fluid-enhanced sonogram and also allows physicians to see if the fallopian
tubes are blocked
– *Hysteroscopy:* visual examination of the endometrial cavity
performed by infusing water and carbon dioxide gas into the uterus to make
polyps and fibroids easily visible.
*What are the treatment options for abnormal uterine bleeding?*
If the bleeding is caused by hormonal irregularity, then it can be treated
with medications such as progesterone or oral contraceptives. Duration of
treatment depends on the cause of the hormonal irregularity.
* What is a D&C?*
A D&C, or dilatation and curettage, is a procedure whereby the opening of
your cervix is stretched just enough so a surgical tool can be put into your
uterus. The tool is used to scrape away the lining of your uterus. The
removed lining is checked in a lab for abnormal tissue. A D&C is done under
anesthesia (while you’re “asleep”). If you’re bleeding heavily, a D&C may be
done both to find out the problem and to treat the bleeding. The D&C itself
often makes heavy bleeding stop. Your doctor will decide if this procedure
* What is endometriosis
a disease characterized by the presence of tissue which is
identical to endometrium (the inner lining of the uterine wall) outside the
uterine cavity. Usually,
confined to the pelvic and lower abdominal cavity; however, it has
occasionally been reported to be in other areas, as well.
one of the most common problems that gynecologists currently face.
* What is dysfunctional uterine bleeding?*
The term “dysfunctional uterine bleeding” is used to describe heavy vaginal
bleeding that may not be caused caused by a serious medical problem. In most
cases, heavy often irregular bleeding is related to abnormal hormone levels
that throw off the menstrual cycle.
Dysfunctional uterine bleeding is not used to describe vaginal bleeding
caused by medical conditions such as miscarriage, uterine growths such as
fibroids, cancer of the cervix or uterus, or blood diseases. If you are
experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding, your healthcare professional must rule
out these other conditions before diagnosing you with dysfunctional uterine
* What causes dysfunctional uterine bleeding?*
There are two types of dysfunctional uterine bleeding:
– *Anovulatory *(“not ovulating”). Progesterone is necessary for the
ovary to regularly release an egg (ovulation), as well as for regulating
menstrual bleeding. Low progesterone causes irregular and heavy menstrual
bleeding. This type of dysfunctional uterine bleeding is common before age
20 and after age 40
During these times of transition into and out of the fertile years, it’s
normal for progesterone levels to vary.
– *Ovulatory*. As many as 15% of ovulating women have abnormal uterine
bleeding despite having normal levels of progesterone and other hormones. In
these cases, no hormonal or other cause can be found.
*What are symptoms of abnormal uterine bleeding?*
You may have abnormal uterine bleeding if you have one or more of the
– Menstrual bleeding that occurs more often than every 21 days or
farther apart than 35 days (a normal menstrual cycle is 24–35 days long)
– Menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than 7 days (normally 4–6 days)
– Blood loss of more than 80 mL each menstrual cycle (normally about
30 mL). If you are passing large clots or soaking a large pad per hour for 8
hours, your bleeding is considered heavy.
Return to Top
Glossary of abnormal uterine bleeding terms
* Ablation:* Removal or excision. Ablation is usually carried out
surgically. For example, surgical removal of the thyroid gland (a total
thyroidectomy) is ablation of the thyroid. The word ablation comes from the
Latin *ablatum* meaning to carry away.
*Abnormal:* Not normal. Deviating from the usual structure, position,
condition, or behavior. In referring to a growth, abnormal may mean that it
is cancerous or premalignant (likely to become cancer).
*Adenomyosis:* This is a common benign condition of the uterus in which the
endometrium (the mucous membrane lining the inside of the uterus) grows into
the myometrium (the uterine musculature located just outside the
*Benign:* Not cancer. Not malignant. A benign tumor does not invade
surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor may
grow but it stays put (in the same place).
*Cervix:* The neck of the womb.
*Curettage:* The removal of growths or other material from the wall of a
cavity or other surface, as with a curet. A curet, or curette, is a
spoon-shaped instrument with a sharp edge. The word “curette” comes from
French and means a scraper. The verb “curer” means to scrape or clean.
* Endometrial ablation:* Removal of the lining of the uterus. Removing the
uterine lining decreases menstrual flow.
*Endometrium:* Mucous membrane lining of the uterus.
*Estrogen:* The female sex hormone responsible for the development and
maintenance of female reproductive organs, especially breast and uterus, and
the secondary sex characteristics such as distribution of fat and hair
*Fallopian tube:* A duct that transports ovum from the ovary to the uterus.
*Fibroids:* Fibroids are common, benign tumors of smooth muscle in the
uterus. Uterine fibroids are one of the most common reason for performing a
hysterectomy. Fibroids do not produce symptoms in all women, but may lead to
prolonged or heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pressure or pain, and rarely
to infertility. In addition to hysterectomy, less invasive surgical
procedures have been employed to remove uterine fibroids. Fibroids can be
detected by radiologic testing, such as ultrasound, CAT scan, or magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI). However, fibroids may not be needed to be removed
*Hormones:* Hemical substances, produced by an organ, gland or special
cells, that are carried through the bloodstream to regulate the activity of
*Hysterectomy:* A surgical operation to remove the uterus and, sometimes,
the cervix. Removal of the entire uterus and the cervix is referred to as a
total hysterectomy. Removal of the body of the uterus without removing the
cervix is referred to as a subtotal hysterectomy.
*Intrauterine:* In the uterus. As opposed to extrauterine: outside the
*Intrauterine device (IUD):* A small, T-shaped device, containing either
copper or a hormone, that is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
*Irregular bleeding:* Vaginal bleeding that occurs at the wrong time of the
month, such as in between periods.
*Menarche:* The term given to the onset of menstruation in females. This
occurs at puberty, which can be anywhere between the ages of 10 and 17.
:* The termination of the menstrual cycle in women in midlife between the
ages of 40 and 55 years.
*Menstruation:* The term given to the periodic discharge of blood, tissue
fluid, and mucus from the endometrium (lining of the uterus) that usually
lasts from 3 to 5 days. It is caused by a sudden reduction in estrogens and
progesterone. Can also be referred to as the menstrual phase or menstrual
cycle, or menses.
*Ovary:* A female gland that produces hormones and the female reproductive
or germ cell (ova).
*Ovulation:* The release of a fertile ocum or egg from the ovary into the
*Ovum *(plural) or *Ova *(singular)*:* The female reproductive, egg or germ
* Pituitary gland:* A gland located in the brain that regulates a wide range
of bodily activities from growth to reproduction.
*Progesterone:* A female hormone and the principal that prepares the body
for and sustains pregnancy. Progesterone prepares the lining (endometrium)
of the uterus to receive and sustain the fertilized egg and so permits
*Syndrome:* A set of signs and symptoms that tend to occur together and
which reflect the presence of a particular disease or an increased chance of
developing a particular disease.
*Uterine lining:* The inner layer of the uterus; the cells that line the
womb; anatomically termed the endometrium.
*Uterus:* The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman’s
lower abdomen between the bladder and the rectum. The narrow, lower portion
of the uterus is the cervix; the broader, upper part is the corpus.