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Bleeding, Abnormal Uterine: Postmenopausal and Menopausal Transition

Catherine Gill, MD and James Arnold, DO

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Subject: Bleeding, Abnormal Uterine: Postmenopausal and Menopausal Transition

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  • Menopause

    • Absence of menstruation for 1 year

    • Due to physiologic decline in ovulatory function (1)

  • Menopausal transition (MT)

    • Commonly referred to as "perimenopause"

    • Begins with onset of cycle irregularity

    • Ends at 1 year from last menstruation (1)

  • Postmenopausal abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB)

    • Uterine bleeding that occurs >1 year after last menstruation or unscheduled bleeding for women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (2,3).

    • Women taking HRT may have abnormal bleeding for several months after initiation of therapy (4). Bleeding that recurs after long bleeding-free period should be considered abnormal and prompt further investigation (5).

  • AUB during MT

    • May be defined by increase in volume or frequency of bleeding, midcycle bleeding, postcoital bleeding


  • Average length MT is 4 years (1).

  • Mean age of menopause in developed countries is 51.4 years of age (1).

    • Premature ovarian failure is defined as onset of menopause <40 years of age.

  • Incidence of postmenopausal AUB is as high as 10%, with majority of cases occurring shortly after menopause (2).

  • AUB accounts for nearly 20% of outpatient office visits for gynecologic reasons (6).

  • Postmenopausal AUB is caused by endometrial cancer in 10–15% cases. More commonly caused by endometrial polyps or atrophy (2).

  • Incidence of endometrial cancer among women, aged 40–50 years, ranges from 13.6 to 24 cases per 100,000 women-years (1).

  • Peak incidence of endometrial cancer is between 65 and 75 years of age.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Endometrial polyps

  • Leiomyomas/adenomyosis

  • Endometrial hyperplasia/cancer

  • Thyroid dysfunction

  • Premature ovarian failure

  • Pituitary dysfunction

  • Coagulopathy

  • Ovarian cancer

  • Infections: pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometritis

  • Pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, or miscarriage

Risk Factors

For endometrial cancer: 
  • Age

  • Time since menopause

  • Obesity/diabetes/hypertension

  • Smoking

  • Early menarche and/or late menopause

  • Nulliparity

  • Estrogen therapy

  • Previous endometrial hyperplasia or polyps

  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

General Prevention

  • Screening for endometrial cancer by transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) is not recommended for asymptomatic women (7)[A].

  • Women undergoing HRT with estrogen should also be treated with progesterone to reduce risk of endometrial hyperplasia (8)[A].



  • Date of last menstruation

  • Bleeding patterns

    • Menses length/frequency

    • Volume of menstrual bleeding

    • Presence of midcycle bleeding

    • Postcoital bleeding

  • History of abnormal cervical lesions

  • Sexual activity and contraception use

  • Parity

  • Medication history—particularly anticoagulants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotics, corticosteroids, hormone replacement, tamoxifen, and herbal supplement (especially gingko, ginseng, soy) (6)

  • Family history—age of menopause onset; bleeding disorders; and cervical, endometrial, or ovarian cancers

Physical Exam

  • Pelvic speculum exam—assess for cervical and vaginal lesions.

  • Bimanual exam—assess for uterine enlargement, adnexal masses, and cervical motion tenderness.

  • Abdominal exam—assess for masses.

Differential Diagnosis

  • Uterine source bleeding

    • See list of possible etiologies

  • Cervical source bleeding

    • Cervical polyps

    • Cervicitis

    • Cervical dysplasia or neoplasia

  • Vaginal source bleeding

    • Vaginitis

    • Atrophy

    • Trauma

    • Vaginal cancer

Diagnostic Tests & Interpretation

Initial Tests (lab, imaging)

  • Initial tests:

    • Urine or serum hCG

      • Must exclude pregnancy, especially during MT as intermittent ovulation may occur (1)

    • Thyroid function tests (1,6)

    • Serum prolactin level

    • Complete blood count (CBC)

    • Consider coagulopathy.

    • Pap smear, if indicated

    • Testing for infection if clinically indicated: gonorrhea, chlamydia, Trichomonas, yeast, bacterial vaginosis

  • Imaging

    • TVUS

      • Endometrial thickness <3 mm provides 98% sensitivity for ruling out endometrial cancer, although some recommend a cutoff of <4–5 mm (9)[B].

      • Stripe >4 mm in postmenopause should prompt further evaluation.

    • Saline infusion sonohysterography

      • Advantages

        • Better able to define intrauterine pathology compared to TVUS alone

        • Less invasive than hysteroscopy

      • Disadvantages

        • More invasive than TVUS

        • Lacks ability to perform targeted biopsy or removal of suspected lesions as with hysteroscopy

        • May risk dissemination of neoplastic cell, therefore should not be performed if abnormal cytology present on endometrial biopsy (EMB) (3).

Diagnostic Procedures/Other

  • Endometrial sampling

    • Indicated for all women >45 years of age with AUB if not using TVUS triage strategy

    • Indicated for MT women <45 years of age with AUB if additional risk factors for endometrial cancer. Uterine stripe measurement generally not useful.

    • Advantages: simple in-office procedure

    • Disadvantages: can miss up to 18% focal lesions (3)

  • Hysteroscopy

    • Advantages: allows targeted biopsy at time of procedure has greater sensitivity and specificity over TVUS for diagnosis of uterine polyps and greater sensitivity for diagnosis of submural fibroids

    • Disadvantages: more invasive procedure, increased pain of procedure, and possible anesthesia risk if unavailable in outpatient setting (10,11)

  • Dilation and curettage

    • Less commonly performed with increased availability and tolerance of endometrial sampling biopsy and hysteroscopy for targeted biopsy (2)


General Measures

  • Endometrial cancer, atypia, and hyperplasia must be ruled out prior to proceeding with treatment. Recommendations for reasonable exclusion of likelihood of endometrial cancer vary, with some using a cutpoint of <3–4 mm on TVUS if the endometrium is thin and homogeneous and most conservative recommending at least TVUS and endometrial sampling. Following this strategy, if

    • Negative cytology on endometrial biopsy

    • <3 mm endometrial stripe on TVUS or sonohysterography

  • And if above criteria are met, may proceed with

    • Watchful waiting

    • Contraceptive hormone therapy

    • Progestin-only therapy

    • Other treatments as indicated for specific diagnoses if identified on workup such as atrophic vaginitis or genital infection

  • If above criteria cannot be met, or patient has persistent AUB:

    • Further investigation is indicated for additional workup and treatment.

  • Referral to gynecology for surgical procedures, such as removal of endometrial polyps or fibroids, endometrial ablation, or hysterectomy


  • For patients in MT, not indicated in postmenopausal (see surgical options)

    • Bleeding at this time is likely anovulatory due to paucity of progesterone in the second half of the cycle, leading to unopposed estrogen. Raises the concern for endometrial hyperplasia, which must be ruled out prior to hormonal therapy.

    • Goal of therapy is to stabilize the endometrium with progesterone. This also regulates the cycle and minimizes other associated menopausal symptoms if present. No real consensus in the literature on best therapy out of choices listed below or length of therapy (6–12 months prior to discontinuing is reasonable) (6).

  • Progestin-only oral therapy (for cycle control only, no contraceptive coverage)

    • Medroxyprogesterone acetate 10 mg PO daily for 14 days each month

      • Start on cycle day 14, taken for 14 days to cover second half of theoretical cycle (then 14 days off, 14 days on, etc.)

    • Megestrol acetate 40 mg PO daily

    • Norethindrone acetate 2.5–10 mg PO daily times 5–10 days each cycle

      • Start on cycle day 14–21 taken during second half of theoretical cycle

  • Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate 150

  • Levonorgestrel intrauterine device (IUD)

  • Combined hormonal contraceptives

    • ≤35 μg ethinyl estradiol plus progesterone agent

    • If no contraindications to estrogen use

    • Oral, transdermal, and vaginal ring preparations available (6)[C]

  • Nonhormonal options to reduce heavy AUB

    • NSAIDs (6)

      • Ibuprofen 600–1,200 mg PO daily, taken for first 5 days after bleeding onset

      • Naproxen 550–1,100 mg PO daily, taken for first 5 days after bleeding onset

    • Comparable to hormonal therapies

    • Caution in patients with gastrointestinal (GI) disease

    • Tranexamic acid, 1,300 mg PO taken three times daily for first 5 days of cycle, beginning with bleeding onset

      • Caution in patients with risk factors for thromboembolic disease

      • May be more effective than NSAIDs or luteal phase progestins (6,12)


For all medications listed above, consider patient’s individual risk for thromboembolic disease.


Issues for Referral

Gynecology referral 
  • Abnormal endometrial sampling biopsy

  • Indication for hysteroscopy or dilation and curettage, to further evaluate and biopsy suspected focal lesions

  • Removal of endometrial polyps/fibroids

  • Uncertain diagnosis

  • Patient preference or indication for hysterectomy

Surgery/Other Procedures

  • Polypectomy or myomectomy

    • Can reduce 75–100% of symptomatic bleeding

    • Endometrial polyps more likely to represent premalignant or malignant lesions in women >60 years of age with postmenopausal AUB.

  • Uterine artery embolization

  • Endometrial ablation

  • Hysterectomy

    • Indicated if premalignant or malignant lesions are identified during workup of AUB

    • May be preferred by patient for severe anemia-associated heavy menstrual losses in MT or postmenopausal bleeding, multiple or large fibroids, recurrent abdominal pain, uterine prolapse, or recurring bleeding after other procedures attempted

Ongoing Care

Follow-up Recommendations

  • Routine well woman care

  • Should be followed by gynecologic oncology if indicated for premalignant or malignant diagnosis and treatment

  • Consider referral to reproductive endocrinology for complicated menopausal symptom management.


  • AUB in MT typically improves on its own with onset of menopause.

  • If endometrial cancer is found, prognosis depends on the extent of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Most cases when diagnosed early have a 5-year survival rate of >96% (3).


Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Practice bulletin no. 136: management of abnormal uterine bleeding associated with ovulatory dysfunction. Obstet Gynecol.  2013;122(1):175–185.  []
Breijer  MC, Timmermans  A, van Doorn  HC, et al. Diagnostic strategies for postmenopausal bleeding. Obstet Gynecol Int.  2010;2010:850812.  []
Null  DB, Weiland  CM, Camlibel  AR. Postmenopausal bleeding-first steps in the workup. J Fam Pract.  2012;61(10):597–604.  []
Stiles  M, Redmer  J, Paddock  E, et al. Gynecologic issues in geriatric women. J Womens Health.  2012;21(1):4–9.  []
Römer  T. Hormone replacement therapy and bleeding disorders. Gynecol Endocrinol.  2006;22(3):140–144.  []
Sweet  MG, Schmidt-Dalton  TA, Weiss  PM, et al. Evaluation and management of abnormal uterine bleeding in premenopausal women. Am Fam Physician.  2012;85(1):35–43.  []
Breijer  MC, Peeters  JA, Opmeer  BC, et al. Capacity of endometrial thickness measurement to diagnose endometrial carcinoma in asymptomatic postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol.  2012;40(6):621–629.  []
Furness  S, Roberts  H, Marjoribanks  J, et al. Hormone therapy in postmenopausal women and risk of endometrial hyperplasia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.  2012;(8):CD000402.  []
Timmermans  A, Opmeer  BC, Khan  KS, et al. Endometrial thickness measurement for detecting endometrial cancer in women with postmenopausal bleeding: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obstet Gynecol.  2010;116(1):160–167.  []
Babacan  A, Gun  I, Kizilaslan  C, et al. Comparison of transvaginal ultrasonography and hysteroscopy in the diagnosis of uterine pathologies. Int J Clin Exp Med.  2014;7(3):764–769.  []
Jain  M, Kanhere  A, Jain  AK. Abnormal uterine bleeding: a critical analysis of two diagnostic methods. Int J Reprod Contracept Obstet Gynecol.  2014;3(1):48–53.
Chaudhry  S, Berkley  C, Warren  M. Perimenopausal vaginal bleeding: diagnostic evaluation and therapeutic options. J Womens Health.  2012;21(3):302–310.  []



  • 626.9 Unspecified disorders of menstruation and other abnormal bleeding from female genital tract

  • 627.1 Postmenopausal bleeding

  • 627.0 Premenopausal menorrhagia

  • 626.8 Other disorders of menstruation and other abnormal bleeding from female genital tract


  • N93.9 Abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding, unspecified

  • N95.0 Postmenopausal bleeding

  • N92.4 Excessive bleeding in the premenopausal period

  • N93.8 Other specified abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding


  • 312984006 Abnormal uterine bleeding unrelated to menstrual cycle (disorder)

  • 76742009 Postmenopausal bleeding (finding)

  • 88424000 Premenopausal menorrhagia (finding)

  • 19155002 Dysfunctional uterine bleeding (finding)

Clinical Pearls

  • Endometrial cancer must be reasonably ruled out in patients with AUB in MT or menopause.

  • Medical management should be first line for patients in MT, once endometrial cancer and hyperplasia ruled out. Surgical options should be reserved for persistent symptoms or postmenopausal patients.

  • AUB in MT is likely anovulatory and would benefit from progesterone in the luteal phase of theoretical menstrual cycle.