Progestogens with or without oestrogen for irregular menstrual bleeding

Irregular bleeding associated with infrequent or no ovulation occurs most commonly in adolescents and in women approaching the menopause. It may also occur in those with polycystic ovary syndrome. This irregular bleeding may also be heavy. Hormonal treatments are commonly given to these women, but there is insufficient evidence to recommend whether progestogens alone or progestogens in combination with oestrogen are most effective for irregular uterine bleeding associated with infrequent or no ovulation.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is a paucity of randomised studies relating to the use of progestogens and of oestrogens and progestogens in combination in the treatment of irregular menstrual bleeding associated with anovulation. There is no consensus about which regimens are most effective.  Further research is needed to establish the role of these hormonal treatments in the management of this common gynaecological problem.

Read the full abstract...

Irregular menstrual bleeding may arise due to exogenous sex steroids, lesions of the genital tract or be associated with anovulation. Irregular bleeding due to oligo/anovulation (previously called dysfunctional uterine bleeding or DUB) is more common at the extremes of reproductive life, and in women with ovulatory disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In anovulatory cycles there may be prolonged oestrogen stimulation of the endometrium without progesterone withdrawal and so cycles are irregular and bleeding may be heavy. This is the rationale for using cyclical progestogens during the second half of the menstrual cycle, in order to provoke a regular withdrawal bleed. Continuous progestogen is intended to induce endometrial atrophy and hence to prevent oestrogen-stimulated endometrial proliferation. Progestogens, and oestrogens and progestogens in combination, are widely used in the management of irregular menstrual bleeding, but the regime, dose and type of progestogen used vary widely, with little consensus about the optimum treatment approach.


To determine the effectiveness and acceptability of progestogens alone or in combination with oestrogens in the regulation of irregular menstrual bleeding associated with oligo/anovulation.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases in February 2012: Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and reference lists of articles.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised controlled trials of progestogens (via any route) alone or in combination with oestrogens in the treatment of irregular menstrual bleeding associated with oligo/anovulation.

Data collection and analysis: 

Study quality assessment and data extraction were carried out independently by two review authors. All authors were experts in the content of this review.

Main results: 

No randomised trials were identified that compared progestogens with oestrogens and progestogens or with placebo in the management of irregular bleeding associated with oligo/anovulation.