Endometrial Ablation for Heavy Periods
Lisa Jaacks, MD, is an OB/GYN at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (602) 978-1500.
Question: I've heard that endometrial ablation is an effective procedure for treating heavy menstrual periods. Will you please describe the procedure for me, as well as what someone can expect after having the procedure done?
Answer: Heavy menstrual periods can affect a woman's quality of life. For instance, heavy periods can limit physical activity, cause anemia and fatigue, or hamper intimacy. Endometrial ablation is a common outpatient procedure designed to help women whose lives are disrupted by these negative effects.
The procedure reduces menstrual bleeding by safely burning away the lining of the uterus. There are a variety of techniques for removing the uterine lining, with hydrothermal (hot water) ablation and electrocautery (a low-voltage electric current) being two of the most popular.
It may take a few months to see results, but ablation is 90 percent effective at significantly reducing or improving menstrual bleeding. In roughly 50 percent of cases, patients will have no bleeding at all after the procedure.
Still, ablation is surgery so there are risks, such as perforating the uterus, causing scar tissue, infection, or being among the 10 percent for whom the procedure is not successful. It can make uterine cancer more difficult to detect. So women with a high risk of uterine cancer should consider other treatment options.
Endometrial ablation is not suitable for women with relatively normal periods who simply want their periods to stop, or for women who are not finished with their childbearing. Additionally, ablation is not a form of birth control. I require my patients to have a form of permanent birth control; either vasectomy for their partner, or tubal ligation for themselves.
The process typically takes less than an hour, and patients are home the same day. There may be mild or moderate pain on the day of the procedure, but patients usually feel well enough to perform their normal daily activities by the next day.
Your physician can help you determine whether endometrial ablation is an appropriate treatment option for you.
Reviewed October 2010