No two women will have the exact same menstruation cycle, but when a woman’s period schedule falls outside of certain boundaries, physicians consider it abnormal.
Abnormal uterine bleeding may sometimes only cause inconsistency with a woman’s menstrual cycle, but other symptoms are also possible and can cause greater discomfort, such as excessive bleeding and cramping. Women should understand how to manage abnormal uterine bleeding and know the options for doing so.
Causes of Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
Almost all abnormal uterine bleeding cases happen because of hormone problems. The menstrual cycle revolves around different hormones in the bloodstream, so inconsistencies or irregularities with hormones can result in abnormal uterine bleeding.
A typical adult menstrual cycle is 21 to 35 days long, while a typical teen cycle is 21 to 45 days long. Each period generally lasts for four to six days. Women with inconsistent hormone levels may have periods more frequently or far less frequently.
Abnormal uterine bleeding can also occur when a woman doesn’t ovulate. During the menstrual cycle, one of the ovaries releases a mature egg in a process called ovulation. When a woman doesn’t ovulate, it throws off the hormone balance in the bloodstream and can cause sudden bleeding. Failure to ovulate can also be a sign of other uterine problems like fibroids or ovarian cysts.
Other uterine issues such as fibroids can cause excessive uterine bleeding, and some women may mistake a miscarriage for an abnormal uterine bleeding incident.
Doctors will perform a series of tests to determine the cause of the abnormal uterine bleeding and address it appropriately. Possible tests include:
- Blood analysis
- Pelvic examination
- Other imaging methods
In some cases, a doctor may insist on a biopsy to detect the presence of cancerous cells that may be causing abnormal uterine bleeding.
The first telltale sign of an abnormal uterine bleeding problem is the timing of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Periods happening fewer than 21 days apart or more than 35 days apart are abnormal.
Periods lasting more than seven days are another warning sign. If your menstrual schedule aligns with any of these variables, schedule a visit with your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Menstrual timing issues also present other problems. A woman who experiences period symptoms sooner than every 21 days must deal with menstrual cramping, fatigue and bleeding more often than a woman on a typical schedule.
Some women experience significant cramping and sudden heavy bleeding as the result of hormonal imbalance. Doctors typically define excessive bleeding as menstrual bleeding that produces blood clots or completely soaks through tampons or menstrual pads each hour for two hours or more at a time.
Women may experience sudden irregularities in their menstrual cycles that go away on their own relatively quickly. However, once abnormal uterine bleeding issue becomes a pattern, it can pose serious health problems. If you experience abnormal menstrual symptoms for three cycles in a row, contact your doctor.
Treating Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
Depending on the cause of the bleeding, a doctor may suggest one of several possible treatment methods. When hormone irregularities cause abnormal uterine bleeding, progestin pills or daily birth control pills can be helpful.
Some women receive birth control prescriptions simply to manage excessive bleeding and cramping. Some types of hormonal birth control can offset other uncomfortable menstrual symptoms as well. Balancing the hormone levels in the bloodstream helps regulate the menstrual cycle and keeps discomfort minimal.
Some women benefit from a short-term course of high doses of estrogen. This technique helps women who experience dangerously heavy bleeding.
A levonorgestrel IUD is another option, and this device releases a hormone similar to progesterone into the bloodstream. This type of IUD will limit menstrual bleeding and prevent pregnancy.
In rare cases, estrogen blockers can resolve abnormal uterine bleeding problems. Medications that stop menstruation and estrogen production can have significant side effects and are only acceptable methods of treatment in special cases. For women who suffer from endometriosis or other uterine conditions, surgery may be the only effective solution.
Regular Checkups and Screenings Are Important
A doctor may not be able to completely identify the cause of an abnormal uterine bleeding issue at first. In some cases, a wait-and-see approach is necessary to monitor a patient’s cycle and determine the best course of treatment. A doctor may recommend an anti-inflammatory medication to manage menstrual cramping and bleeding until the root cause is more discernible.
Very young women often experience irregularities with their menstrual cycle that stop after several cycles. Women in menopause should expect their periods to eventually stop entirely.
Contact your doctor if you have any concerns about your menstrual symptoms or schedule. Maintaining a regular schedule of checkups and screenings and verifying your concerns with your doctor are crucial.
Treatment at All Stages of Life
At Arizona Gynecology Consultants, we understand that women’s needs change from adolescence to retirement. Our providers are experienced in all aspects of gynecological health and focus on the needs of each individual patient.
Abnormal uterine bleeding is incredibly common and can happen for many reasons. The providers we work with can help identify the cause of an abnormal uterine bleeding problem and recommend an effective treatment.
Founder and Medical Director of ARIZONA GYNECOLOGY CONSULTANTS
Dr. Kelly Roy is a specialist in surgical gynecology and advanced laparoscopy (and hysteroscopy). She is a long-time resident of Arizona and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at Arizona State University before finishing her Doctorate of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1997.
Dr. Roy completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the then “Banner Good Samaritan Hospital” (now Banner University Medical Center), in Phoenix Arizona in 2001.
Well known for her teaching and surgical ability, she is on the faculty at the residency program at both Banner University Medical Center and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in central Phoenix and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix Campus. Dr. Roy has taught advanced surgical techniques to medical students, residents, fellows and colleagues for over 15 years.
Dr. Roy is also a consultant to the medical device industry and has participated in the design and clinical testing of many instruments and surgical devices available on the world-wide market today.