Abnormal uterine bleeding refers to bleeding that occurs outside of the normal menstrual cycle. It can also refer to bleeding that is extremely heavy or occurs for an extended amount of time. A typical menstrual flow should last approximately five days and occur roughly every 28 days, although the specifics can vary based on the individual. In contrast, abnormal uterine bleeding can be a breakout period of bleeding that occurs sometime between the cessation of the last menstrual cycle and the onset of the next. Along with irregular patterns of bleeding, this condition also includes a menstrual flow that is particularly heavy as compared to what is normal for the individual. Because it is not always reported by women experiencing it, abnormal uterine bleeding often goes undiagnosed. It can affect women throughout different times of their lives, and it is estimated that about 1% of women in the United States have abnormal uterine bleeding.
What Causes Abnormal Uterine Bleeding?
Abnormal uterine bleeding can have a variety of causes, including:
- Fibroids or uterine polyps
- Uterine or cervical cancer
- Early pregnancy
- Hormonal changes
- Anticoagulation blood thinners
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Platelet dysfunction
Hormonal changes are a common cause of abnormal uterine bleeding, though the root of these changes may be difficult to discern. Intense periods of stress or lifestyle changes can cause changes in hormone levels, as can going through menopause or conditions like PCOS.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
The best way to recognize abnormal uterine bleeding is to keep track of the menstrual cycle and take note of any irregularities.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Unusually long menstrual periods
- Bleeding after sexual activity, between menstrual periods or during menopause
- Heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
- An inconsistent menstrual cycle pattern
Diagnosing Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
As with most conditions, the best way to identify abnormal uterine bleeding is to discuss any unusual changes with a healthcare professional. Your provider can ask you questions about your symptoms and any external factors that may be contributing to the irregular bleeding, and can also perform a physical examination. If needed, the provider may order tests to get a better understanding of the abnormal uterine bleeding and determine the best path forward.
How Is Abnormal Uterine Bleeding Treated?
Treatment for abnormal uterine bleeding will vary depending on the specific cause of the condition, and thus may be different from one patient to another.
Some treatments your healthcare provider may recommend include:
- Birth control pills
- Hormone therapy, including progestin
- Surgical options for structural causes or severe cases
The obstetric and gynecologic healthcare professionals at Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute are specialized in diagnosing and treating abnormal uterine bleeding.