PUBLISHED: 2:27 PM on Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Quick procedure eliminates excessively heavy periods
LUBBOCK, Texas - Women do not have to quietly endure excessive menstrual bleeding.

There are several options that can help alleviate menorrhagia - abnormally heavy periods - including a new system of endometrial ablation called NovaSure.

Endometrial ablation is the process of removing the uterine lining that produces menstrual bleeding. It also eliminates the possibility of becoming pregnant.

"Essentially, this is for someone that fits into that category that child bearing or the ability to have a child is not an issue," he said.

This treatment has been around for years but the NovaSure System is a safer, simpler alternative to the same procedure, said Dr. Brent Nall, a physician in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Grace Clinic.

One in five women - 10 million in the U.S. - suffers from excessive menstrual bleeding, causing severe pain and sometimes leaving sufferers anemic.

"A lot of people think they're just supposed to suffer through it," Nall said. "If you think something's wrong with your period ... it's not something you're just supposed to tough it out."

Other treatments for heavy periods include hormone therapy or hysterectomy but hormones are only effective 50 percent of the time, and a hysterectomy is a costly major surgery that isn't always necessary, Nall said.

About 700,000 hysterectomies are performed on women in the U.S. each year, and 30 percent of those patients list heavy or irregular bleeding as symptoms.

Hysterectomies are usually recommended when a woman suffers from a disease such as uterine cancer.

For several women with heavy periods, a hysterectomy is not required, Nall said.

Kristi Downey, 42, of Lubbock, for example, never considered having a hysterectomy.

That's because Downey's only complaint was that her periods became irregular after she had her son seven years ago. She didn't suffer from any other complication.

"I never knew when I was going to have one," she said. "I didn't know whether it was going to be very light, very heavy ..."

Before she had her son, Downey said she had always had a predictable menstrual cycle. Before choosing surgery, her doctors tried to regulate her period with birth control, but to no avail.

Downey then resorted to having her tubes tied. But that didn't work either. That's when Nall suggested Downey try endometrial ablation.

Downey said she hasn't had a period since.

"It was absolutely amazing," she said. "I'd do it again in a minute."

Some women do not have a period after undergoing endometrial ablation, Nall said. Others have much lighter or shorter periods. Goodbye, cramps.

During the procedure, the patient is sedated or given a light general anesthetic, Nall said. Then the physician dilates the uterus and uses a scope to make sure there's nothing inside - such as a fibroid or polyps - that would be a reason not to finish the ablation.

Then an electrode mesh instrument is inserted into the uterine cavity, molding to its shape. A machine first tests for perforations with carbon dioxide before forming a seal and heating the lining of the uterus.

The lining of the uterus is destroyed, and a suction device removes what is left.

Women sometimes suffer cramps after the procedure, Nall said, but the cramps are treatable with medicine.

The procedure is an outpatient surgery, and most patients can go home in an hour and return to normal activity in about two days.

Risks associated with the NovaSure procedure are potential infection or the chance of perforating the uterus, Nall said.

"But all of this is much more rare than with a hysterectomy," he said.

NovaSure is cheaper, too.

A hysterectomy typically costs between $1,200 and $1,400, including surgery and recovery time in the hospital.

NovaSure can cost between $500 and $1,200 and is covered by most health insurance providers, Nall said.