Cyclical progestogens for heavy menstrual bleeding

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Aug 14;8(8):CD001016. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001016.pub3.


Background: Heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) is a menstrual blood loss perceived by women as excessive that affects the health of women of reproductive age, interfering with their physical, emotional, social and material quality of life. Whilst abnormal menstrual bleeding may be associated with underlying pathology, in the present context, HMB is defined as excessive menstrual bleeding in the absence of other systemic or gynaecological disease. The first-line therapy is usually medical, avoiding possibly unnecessary surgery. Of the wide variety of medications used to reduce HMB, oral progestogens were originally the most commonly prescribed agents. This review assesses the effectiveness of two different types and regimens of oral progestogens in reducing ovulatory HMB.This is the update of a Cochrane review last updated in 2007, and originally named "Effectiveness of cyclical progestagen therapy in reducing heavy menstrual bleeding" (1998).

Objectives: To determine the effectiveness, safety and tolerability of oral progestogen therapy taken either during the luteal phase (short cycle) or for a longer course of 21 days per cycle (long cycle), in achieving a reduction in menstrual blood loss in women of reproductive age with HMB.

Search methods: In January 2019 we searched Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility's specialized register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL and PsycInfo. We also searched trials registers, other sources of unpublished or grey literature and reference lists of retrieved trials. We also checked citation lists of review articles to identify trials.

Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing different treatments for HMB that included cyclical oral progestogens were eligible.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed trials for risk of bias and extracted data. We contacted trial authors for clarification of methods or additional data when necessary. We only assessed adverse events if they were separately measured in the included trials. We compared cyclical oral progestogen in different regimens and placebo or other treatments. Our primary outcomes were menstrual blood loss and satisfaction with treatment; the secondary outcomes were number of days of bleeding, quality of life, compliance and acceptability of treatment, adverse events and costs.

Main results: This review identified 15 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with 1071 women in total. Most of the women knew which treatment they were receiving, which may have influenced their judgements about menstrual blood loss and satisfaction. Other aspects of trial quality varied among trials.We did not identify any RCTs comparing progestogen treatment with placebo. We assessed comparisons between oral progestogens and other medical therapies separately according to different regimens.Short-cycle progestogen therapy during the luteal phase (medroxyprogesterone acetate or norethisterone for 7 to 10 days, from day 15 to 19) was inferior to other medical therapy, including tranexamic acid, danazol and the progestogen-releasing intrauterine system (Pg-IUS (off of the market since 2001)), releasing 60 mcg of progesterone daily, with respect to reduction of menstrual blood loss (mean difference (MD) 37.29, 95% confidence interval (CI) 17.67 to 56.91; I2 = 50%; 6 trials, 145 women). The rate of satisfaction and the quality of life with treatment was similar in both groups. The number of bleeding days was greater on the short cycle progestogen group compared to other medical treatments. Adverse events (such as gastrointestinal symptoms and weight gain) were more likely with danazol when compared with progestogen treatment. We note that danazol is no longer in general use for treating HMB.Long-cycle progestogen therapy (medroxyprogesterone acetate or norethisterone), from day 5 to day 26 of the menstrual cycle, is also inferior to the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS), releasing tranexamic acid and ormeloxifene, but may be similar to the combined vaginal ring with respect to reduction of menstrual blood loss (MD 16.88, 95% CI 10.93 to 22.84; I2 = 87%; 4 trials, 355 women). A higher proportion of women taking norethisterone found their treatment unacceptable compared to women having Pg-IUS (Peto odds ratio (OR) 0.12, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.40; 1 trial, 40 women). However, the adverse effects of breast tenderness and intermenstrual bleeding were more likely in women with the LNG-IUS. No trials reported on days of bleeding or quality of life for this comparison.The evidence supporting these findings was limited by low or very low gradings of quality; thus, we are uncertain about the findings and there is a potential that they may change if we identify other trials.

Authors' conclusions: Low- or very low-quality evidence suggests that short-course progestogen was inferior to other medical therapy, including tranexamic acid, danazol and the Pg-IUS with respect to reduction of menstrual blood loss. Long cycle progestogen therapy (medroxyprogesterone acetate or norethisterone) was also inferior to the LNG-IUS, tranexamic acid and ormeloxifene, but may be similar to the combined vaginal ring with respect to reduction of menstrual blood loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Danazol / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intrauterine Devices, Medicated*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / therapeutic use
  • Menorrhagia / drug therapy*
  • Progesterone / administration & dosage
  • Progesterone / therapeutic use*
  • Progestins / therapeutic use
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Tranexamic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Progestins
  • Progesterone
  • Tranexamic Acid
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate
  • Danazol