From the Editor

Have you tried a progestin for your patient’s pelvic pain?

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Progestins are highly effective for pelvic pain caused by endometriosis that’s refractory to other treatments



Correction: Reimbursement Adviser, November 2011

The date of the changeover to the 10th revision of International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10-CM) codes is incorrectly stated in the November 2011 Reimbursement Adviser, page 51. The date should be October 1, 2013.

To read the corrected version of this article, Click here
—The Editors


Your patient is a 26-year-old G0 woman who has a long history of progressively worsening dysmenorrhea, pelvic pain, and dyspareunia. In the recent past, she was treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a cyclic estrogen-progestin contraceptive, and a continuous estrogen-progestin contraceptive—in that order, and without appreciable relief of the pain.

Recently, the woman underwent laparoscopy, which demonstrated Stage-II endometriosis, which was ablated.

What would you prescribe for her postoperatively to alleviate symptoms?

Endometriosis will be diagnosed in approximately 8% of women of reproductive age.1 Pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, and deep dyspareunia are common symptoms of endometriosis that interfere with quality of life.

Endometriosis is a chronic disease best managed by developing a life-long treatment plan. Following laparoscopic diagnosis and treatment, many experts strongly recommend postoperative hormone-suppressive therapy to reduce the risk that severe pelvic pain will recur, requiring re-operation.

Options for postoperative hormonal treatment of endometriosis include:

  • an estrogen–progestin contraceptive
  • a progestin (norethindrone acetate [NEA]; depot medroxyprogesterone acetate [DMPA]; oral medroxyprogesterone acetate; the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system [LNG-IUS; Mirena]; and the progestin-releasing implant [Implanon])
  • a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist (depot leuprolide [Depot Lupron]; nafarelin nasal spray [Synarel]).

CASE Continued

Considering that both cyclic and continuous estrogen-progestin contraceptives have already failed to provide adequate pain relief for your patient, you know that you should offer an alternative to her. Taking into account that progestins are significantly less costly than a GnRH agonist, a progestin formulation might, for her, be considered a first-line postoperative treatment of symptoms of endometriosis.

Options when considering a progestin

Norethindrone acetate

This agent is available in a single formulation: a 5-mg tablet; however, dosages ranging from 2.5 mg/d (half of a tablet) to 15 mg/d have been reported to be effective for relieving pain caused by endometriosis.

What is it? NEA is an androgenic progestin that suppresses luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, thus reducing production of ovarian estrogen. In the absence of ovarian estrogen, endometriosis lesions atrophy. In addition, NEA binds to, and stimulates, endometrial progestin and androgen receptors, resulting in decidualization and atrophy of both eutopic and ectopic endometrial tissue.

Importantly, NEA does not appear to cause bone loss, a phenomenon that is common with agents such as the GnRH agonists or DPMA.2-4

The research record. One randomized study, two pilot studies, and one large observational study have reported that NEA is effective for pelvic pain caused by endometriosis.

In the randomized trial, 90 women who had moderate or severe pelvic pain and rectovaginal endometriosis, and who remained symptomatic after conservative surgery, were randomized to receive NEA, 2.5 mg/d, or a low-dose estrogen-progestin contraceptive (ethinyl estradiol, 10 μg, plus cyproterone acetate, 3 mg) daily for 12 months.5 Both treatment groups reported significant and similar decreases in dysmenorrhea, deep dyspareunia, non-menstrual pain and dyschezia.

In a small pilot study, 40 women who had pelvic pain and colorectal endometriosis were treated with NEA 2.5 mg/d for 12 months. The drug produced significant improvement in dysmenorrhea, pelvic pain, deep dyspareunia, dyschezia, and cyclic rectal bleeding.6

In another pilot study, women who had pelvic pain and rectovaginal endometriosis were treated with either an aromatase inhibitor (letrozole, 2.5 mg/d) plus NEA (2.5 mg/d) or NEA (2.5 mg/d) alone for 6 months. Both treatments resulted in a significant improvement in pelvic pain and deep dyspareunia. Improvement in pain scores was greater with letrozole plus NEA; patients were more satisfied with NEA monotherapy than with the combined letrozole-NEA treatment, however, because the former was associated with fewer side effects.7

In a large (n=194) observational study of the postoperative use of NEA in young women with pelvic pain and endometriosis, NEA at dosages as high as 15 mg/d significantly diminished pelvic pain and self-reported menstrual bleeding. All subjects were started on a dosage of 5 mg/d, which was increased in 2.5-mg increments every 2 weeks to achieve the goals of amenorrhea and a lessening of pelvic pain; the maximum dosage administered was 15 mg/d. Mean duration of NEA use was 13 months; 75% of subjects took the maximum prescribed dosage of 15 mg at some point during treatment. The most commonly reported side effects were weight gain (16% of women); acne (10%); mood lability (9%); and vasomotor symptoms (8%).8

In summary. NEA is effective for treating pelvic pain caused by endometriosis at dosages from 2.5 mg/d to 15 mg/d. An important goal of treatment is a decrease in pain symptoms and amenorrhea; a dosage of 2.5 mg is often insufficient to reliably achieve both of those objectives.


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