What is menorrhagia?

Updated: Dec 20, 2018
  • Author: Julia A Shaw, MD, MBA, FACOG; Chief Editor: Michel E Rivlin, MD  more...
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Answer

Menorrhagia is defined as menstruation at regular cycle intervals but with excessive flow and duration and is one of the most common gynecologic complaints in contemporary gynecology. Clinically, menorrhagia is defined as total blood loss exceeding 80 mL per cycle [13] or menses lasting longer than 7 days. [14] The World Health Organization reports that 18 million women aged 30-55 years perceive their menstrual bleeding to be exorbitant. [15] Reports show that only 10% of these women experience blood loss severe enough to cause anemia or be clinically defined as menorrhagia. [14, 16, 17] In practice, measuring menstrual blood loss is difficult. Thus, the diagnosis is usually based upon the patient's history.

A normal menstrual cycle is 21-35 days in duration, with bleeding lasting an average of 7 days and flow measuring 25-80 mL. [18]

Menorrhagia must be distinguished clinically from other common gynecologic diagnoses. These include metrorrhagia (flow at irregular intervals), menometrorrhagia (frequent, excessive flow), polymenorrhea (bleeding at intervals < 21 d), and dysfunctional uterine bleeding (abnormal uterine bleeding without any obvious structural or systemic abnormality). [18]

Nearly 30% of all hysterectomies performed in the United States are performed to alleviate heavy menstrual bleeding. [11] Historically, definitive surgical correction has been the mainstay of treatment for menorrhagia. Modern gynecology has trended toward conservative therapy both for controlling costs and the desire of many women to preserve their uterus.

Heavy menstrual bleeding is a subjective finding, making the exact problem definition difficult. Treatment regimens must address the specific facet of the menstrual cycle the patient perceives to be abnormal, (ie, cycle length, quantity of bleeding). Finally, treatment success is usually evaluated subjectively by each patient, making positive outcome measurement difficult.


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