Clinical Review

2014 Update on abnormal uterine bleeding

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Randomized data shed light on AUB associated with fibroids, adenomyosis, and the use of progestins



As recently defined by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO)—and endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—the term “abnormal uterine bleeding” (AUB) now describes any departure from normal menstrual bleeding.1 To determine the most appropriate intervention for this widespread problem, FIGO proposed that clinicians consider potential contributors to the clinical problem by investigating and categorizing patients according to the following system:

  • Polyp
  • Adenomyosis
  • Leiomyoma
  • Malignancy and hyperplasia
  • Coagulopathy
  • Ovulatory disorders
  • Endometrial dysfunction
  • Iatrogenic
  • Not otherwise classified.

A given individual may be found to have one or more of these features, but not all of the features may contribute to the AUB. To facilitate their use, these nine causes are more commonly identified using the acronym PALM-COEIN.

In this article, I focus on three of these categories, presenting recent data on AUB associated with leiomyomata (AUB-L) or adenomyosis (AUB-A), and AUB of an iatrogenic nature (AUB-I).


Gupta JK, Sinha A, Lumsden MA, Hickey M. Uterine artery embolization for symptomatic uterine fibroids. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;5:CD005073. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005073.pub3.

Women who undergo uterine artery embolization (UAE) for the treatment of symptomatic uterine fibroids are just as satisfied with the outcome as women treated with hysterectomy or myomectomy, according to this 2012 review from the Cochrane Database.

Gupta and colleagues found similar patient-satisfaction rates at 5 years (odds ratio [OR] 0.9; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.45–1.8), although women undergoing UAE were more likely to require additional interventions within 2 years (56 additional interventions per 1,000 women for surgery vs 250 per 1,000 women for UAE; OR, 5.64).

Details and general findings
Gupta and colleagues selected randomized, controlled trials comparing UAE with surgery:

  • three trials of UAE versus abdominal hysterectomy (n = 291)
  • one trial of UAE versus hysterectomy or myomectomy (the specific surgery was determined by patient preference) (n = 157)
  • one trial of UAE versus myomectomy in women desiring future childbearing (n = 121).

In these trials, UAE was bilateral and involved the use of permanent embolic material.

Among the findings:

  • Costs were lower with UAE, as assessed by measuring the duration of the procedure, length of hospitalization, and time to resumption of normal activities.
  • Ovarian-failure rates were comparable between women in the UAE and surgery groups. Ovarian function was assessed by measuring follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), although FSH thresholds varied in some of the studies.
  • Pregnancy was less likely after UAE than after myomectomy. In the trial comparing UAE with myomectomy, 26 women later tried to conceive after UAE versus 40 after myomectomy. Significantly fewer women became pregnant after UAE (OR, 0.29; 95% CI, 0.10–0.85).

Related Article: Update on Fertility G. David Adamson, MD; Mary E. Abusief, MD (February 2014)

Bleeding outcomes were not measured
Strengths of this systematic review are its inclusion of high-quality, randomized, controlled trials and its assessment of ovarian-failure rates. However, a major weakness is the fact that its design does not allow for discrete evaluation of bleeding outcomes. Nor can its findings be broken down by the type of leiomyoma being treated.

This review demonstrates that women are satisfied with outcomes five years after UAE and that ovarian failure is not more common after UAE than after surgery. Although the available evidence demonstrates that pregnancy following UAE is possible, women requiring a surgical procedure for AUB-L who are uncertain about their childbearing plans or who are hoping to conceive should be encouraged to select myomectomy as their intervention of choice.


Ozdegirmenci O, Kayikcioglu F, Akgul MA, et al. Comparison of levonorgestrel intrauterine system versus hysterectomy on efficacy and quality of life in patients with adenomyosis. Fertil Steril. 2011;95(2):497–502.

In a small randomized, controlled trial of the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS; Mirena) versus hysterectomy for adenomyosis-associated AUB, women allocated to the LNG-IUS experienced a reduction in bleeding and comparable gains in hemoglobin values during the first year of use. Both the LNG-IUS and hysterectomy improved health-related quality of life, but the LNG-IUS was associated with superior improvements in measures of psychological and social functioning.

Related Article: Update: Minimally invasive gynecology Amy Garcia, MD (April 2013)

Details and general findings of the trial
Eighty-six women were enrolled in the trial after exclusion of endometrial pathology as a cause of their heavy menstrual bleeding and after transvaginal ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging findings were consistent with the diagnosis of adenomyosis. Participants then were randomly assigned to undergo hysterectomy or insertion of an LNG-IUS (43 women in each group). At baseline, the mean (SD) age was 44.28 (4.36) years among women in the LNG-IUS group versus 46.38 (3.76) years among women undergoing hysterectomy (P = .032), a statistical difference that I suspect is not clinically significant.

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