The doctor will ask for the patient's complete medical history. This information can help determine whether a menstrual problem is caused by another medical condition. For example, non-menstrual conditions that may cause abdominal pain include appendicitis, urinary tract infections, ectopic pregnancy, and irritable bowel syndrome. Endometriosis and fibroids may cause heavy bleeding and pain. Doctors may ask questions concerning:
Menstrual Diary . A menstrual diary is a helpful way to keep track of changes in menstrual cycles. Patients can record when their period starts, how long it lasts, and the amount of bleeding and pain that occurs during the course of menstruation. Pelvic Examination . A pelvic exam is a standard part of diagnosis. A Pap test may be done during this exam.
BLOOD AND HORMONAL TESTS
Blood tests can help rule out other conditions that cause menstrual disorders. For example, a doctor may test thyroid function to make sure that low thyroid (hypothyroidism) is not present. Blood tests can also check follicle-stimulating hormone, estrogen, and prolactin levels. Patients who have menorrhagia may get tests for bleeding disorders. If patients are losing a lot of blood, they should also get tested for anemia. Patients who have amenorrhea may need to receive special hormonal tests. The progestational challenge test uses oral or injected progesterone to test for a functional uterine lining (endometrium): Bleeding that occurs up to 3 weeks after the progesterone dose suggests that the woman has normal estrogen levels but is not ovulating, particularly if thyroid and prolactin levels are normal. In such cases, the doctor will check for stress, recent weight loss, and any medications. Such results could also suggest polycystic ovaries or stress. A failure to bleed could indicate an abnormal uterus that prevents outflow or insufficient estrogen. In such cases, the next step may be to administer estrogen followed by progestin. If bleeding occurs after that, the cause of amenorrhea is related to low estrogen levels. The doctor will then check for ovarian failure, anorexia, or other causes of low estrogen. If bleeding does not occur, the doctor would check for obstructions that are preventing outflow of menstruation.
Imaging techniques are often used to detect certain conditions that may be causing menstrual disorders. Imaging can help diagnose fibroids, endometriosis, or structural abnormalities of the reproductive organs. Ultrasound and Sonohysterography. Ultrasound is the standard imaging technique for evaluating the uterus and ovaries, detecting fibroids, ovarian cysts and tumors, and finding obstructions in the urinary tract. It uses sound waves to produce an image of the organs. Ultrasound carries no risk and causes very little discomfort. Transvaginal sonohysterography uses ultrasound along with saline injected into the uterus to enhance the visualization of the uterus.
OTHER DIAGNOSTIC PROCEDURES
Hysteroscopy. Hysteroscopy is a procedure that can detect the presence of fibroids, polyps, or other causes of bleeding. It may miss cases of uterine cancer, however, and is not a substitute for more invasive procedures, such as dilation and curettage (D&C) or endometrial biopsy, if cancer is suspected. It is done in the office setting and requires no incisions. The procedure uses a long flexible or rigid tube called a hysteroscope , which is inserted into the vagina and through the cervix to reach the uterus. A fiber optic light source and a tiny camera in the tube allow the doctor to view the cavity. The uterus is filled with saline or carbon dioxide to inflate the cavity and provide better viewing. This can cause cramping. Hysteroscopy is non-invasive, but many women find the procedure painful. The use of an anesthetic spray such as lidocaine may help in preventing pain from this procedure. Other complications include excessive fluid absorption, infection, and uterine perforation. Hysteroscopy is also performed as part of surgical procedures. Laparoscopy. Diagnostic laparoscopy, an invasive surgical procedure, is currently the only definitive method for diagnosing endometriosis, a common cause of dysmenorrhea. It may also be used to treat endometriosis. Laparoscopy normally requires a general anesthetic, although the patient can go home the same day. The procedure involves inflating the abdomen with gas through a small abdominal incision. A fiber optic tube equipped with small camera lenses (the laparoscope) is then inserted. The doctor uses the laparoscope to view the uterus, ovaries, tubes, and peritoneum (lining of the pelvis). Endometrial Biopsy. When heavy or abnormal bleeding occurs, an endometrial (uterine) biopsy can be performed in the office. This procedure can help identify abnormal cells, which suggest that cancer may be present. It may also help the doctor decide on the best hormonal treatment to use. This procedure may often be done without anesthesia, or local anesthetic is injected. The patient lies on her back with her feet in stirrups. An instrument (speculum) is inserted into the vagina to hold it open and allow the cervix to be viewed. The cervix is cleaned with an antiseptic liquid and then grasped with an instrument (tenaculum) that holds the uterus steady. A device called a cervical dilator may be needed to stretch the cervical canal if there is tightness (stenosis). A small, hollow plastic tube is then gently passed into the uterine cavity. Gentle suction removes a sample of the lining. The tissue sample and instruments are removed. A specialist called a pathologist examines the sample under a microscope. Dilation and Curettage (D&C) .
Dilation and curettage (D&C) is a more invasive procedure:
- A D&C is usually done in an outpatient setting so that the patient can return home the same day, but it sometimes requires a general anesthetic. It may need to be performed in the operating room to rule out serious conditions or treat some minor ones that may be causing the bleeding.
- The cervix (the neck of the uterus) is dilated (opened).
- The surgeon scrapes the inside lining of the uterus and cervix.
- The procedure is used to take samples of the tissue and to relieve heavy bleeding in some instances. D&C can also be effective in scraping off small endometrial polyps, but it is not very useful for most fibroids, which tend to be larger and more firmly attached.