Knowing Your Treatment Options for Heavy Periods
Talking to your doctor about heavy periods is no small feat – it can be overwhelming, scary and embarrasing. While you may feel inclined to end the conversation as quickly as possible, think again. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask relevant questions that will help you better understand your condition and the solutions available to you. And don’t underestimate the value of doing your research – knowing your options ahead of your appointment can help you have a more educated conversation with your doctor and feel empowered before you even walk through the door.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that healthcare professionals share all treatment options with women suffering from abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB), in recognition that women should have a choice in their care.1 Simply put, knowing your options is important because you play an important role in your own healthcare. Let’s talk through some of the most common treatment options available for AUB, so you can confidently and productively discuss your best path forward with your doctor.
Intrauterine Devices (IUD)
An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus by a healthcare professional. IUDs can either contain hormones or be completely non-hormonal. Typically, hormone-releasing IUDs are used to treat heavy periods, as they have been shown to make periods shorter and lighter,2 while non-hormonal IUDs are used only as contraception. Hormonal IUDs may help to lighten heavy bleeding and ease related issues.3 It’s important to note that IUDs are a temporary solution to heavy bleeding, and will have to be replaced every few years, as recommended by your doctor.
Like any treatment, different types of IUDs serve different purposes and one could be more beneficial to you depending upon your situation (and your preferences). Be sure to talk to your doctor– they can give you more information and point you toward an IUD that may work well for you.
Oral contraceptives, otherwise known as “the pill,” are also used to treat heavy bleeding. Similar to IUD, birth control pills (also hormone-releasing) can help to regulate your period and lighten heavy bleeding. Since the pill is hormonal, your body may need time to adjust to side effects. Some possible symptoms when first taking birth control pills include breast tenderness, dizziness, headaches, irregular bleeding, mood changes and nausea.4 Like an IUD, birth control can only provide temporary relief while your body is actively regulated by hormones. Once you remove your IUD or go off the pill, you could get pregnant and your heavy bleeding may return.
Global Endometrial Ablation
For women finished with childbearing who are seeking a more permanent solution than hormones, Global endometrial ablation (GEA) is an option to consider. Endometrial ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that treats AUB by removing the uterine lining while preserving the uterus to reduce or eliminate bleeding. These procedures can be as quick as five minutes, and demonstrate results immediately while encouraging a rapid recovery.6
The procedure is meant for women who are pre-menopausal but finished childbearing. If you’re considering GEA as a treatment option, talk to a doctor about the NovaSure® procedure – a trusted and clinically successful method for reducing or eliminating heavy bleeding.
While hysterectomy is the most frequently performed major surgery in gynecology,5 it should be considered a last resort for women who do not respond to other forms of treatment. Being that it is major surgery, hysterectomy requires general anesthesia during the procedure and can warrant up to eight weeks of recovery time. A hysterectomy has the power to permanently eliminate heavy bleeding, as the uterus – and in some cases, the ovaries and Fallopian tubes – is removed entirely.7
Talking to a Doctor
Deciding to seek treatment is the first major step in your journey to freedom from heavy periods. While knowing your options is of utmost importance, dense medical literature can be a bit overwhelming. Use this simple comparison chart of some common treatment options to help you prepare yourself for your conversation with your doctor.
Remember, prepping yourself before your appointment will give you a basic understanding of questions to ask, and solutions available. Always try to arm yourself with knowledge before getting to the doctor so you can feel empowered to ask the right questions.
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Heavy menstrual bleeding: assessment and management. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng88/chapter/Recommendations#management-of-hmb. Accessed March 1, 2019.
- Indiana University Bloomington Health Center. “What is an IUD?” https://healthcenter.indiana.edu/answers/intrauterine-device.shtml. Accessed March 3, 2019.
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. “What are the treatment options for heavy periods?” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279293/. Created October 15, 2010.
- Medical News Today. “Can you start the birth control pill midcycle?” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322867.php. Accessed March 3, 2019.
- Van der Meij, E. and Emanuel, Mark Hans. Women’s Health (Lond). 2016 Jan; 12(1): 63-69. Hysterectomy for Heavy Menstrual Bleeding. Accessed March 3, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5779572/
- NovaSure Instructions for Use.
- Siddle N, et al. The effect of hysterectomy on the age at ovarian failure: identification of a subgroup of women with premature loss of ovarian function and literature review. Fertil Steril. 1987; 47:94-100.