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The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) Clinical Effectiveness Unit is developing a guideline looking at contraceptive options for women with weight issues. We hope that this guideline will include information for those facing bariatric surgery as almost 80% of women requesting this procedure are in their reproductive years.1 These women are also advised to avoid pregnancy for up to 24 months following surgery, making effective, reversible contraception an ideal choice.2
With this in mind, we therefore asked women aged between 18 and 50 years on a bariatric surgery waiting list to complete a voluntary, anonymous online survey about their sexual and reproductive health. Ethical approval was granted by the National Health Service, University of Sunderland and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust Research Ethics Committees.
There were 42 responders with the majority (38%, n=16) aged between 35 and 44 years old, 92% (n=38) were heterosexual and 71% (n=30) had children. All participants (n=42) described their ethnic origin as white with an average body mass index (BMI) of 42 kg/m2.
Menstrual cycles were described as regular in half the participants (n=21), and 21% (n=9) reported the average length of bleeding per cycle to be 3–4 days. Nearly half of the respondents experienced heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) (n=19), defined as needing frequent changes of sanitary protection (pads or tampons) during the day and/or night. Painful periods (dysmenorrhoea) were reported by 60% (n=25). Medication for dysmenorrhoea was taken by 39% (n=12). Bleeding in between periods was experienced by 12% (n=5).
Contraception was used by either the woman or her partner in 76% (n=32) of participants, with 5% (n=2) stating that they were not in a relationship. Over half the participants (55%, n=23) were using contraception, with the hormonal intrauterine system (IUS) (n=8) being the most common method, followed by the progestogen implant (n=5) and progestogen-only pill (n=3) (table 1).
Menstrual data from participants using hormonal contraception and intrauterine systems (IUSs) or devices (IUDs) (n=20) showed low levels of HMB and high rates of amenorrhoea (table 2). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) had been diagnosed in 16% (n=7) of the respondents.
This is the first British survey looking at menstrual bleeding patterns and contraceptive use in obese women before bariatric surgery. No woman was using a contraceptive method where there were safety issues, although 23% who reported being in a heterosexual relationship were not using contraception. This suggests that the UK Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use guideline was being followed, and just three women would need to choose an alternative non-oral method after bariatric surgery.3 The updated US Medical Eligibility for Contraceptive Use do not recommend oral hormonal methods, citing the potential to decrease contraceptive effectiveness associated with the procedure and postoperative complications such as long-term diarrhoea and/or vomiting.4 The reported incidence of PCOS was similar to data found in other studies investigating overweight and obese women. A survey of 563 Swedish women found that prior to surgery, the most common methods were hormonal IUDs (16%, n=86), followed by progestogen-only pills (15%, n=85), and copper IUDs (14%, n=77), with 32% (n=182) reporting not using any contraception, but this did not specify whether this was inclusive of male or female sterilisation5
When looking at the menstrual data for women prior to bariatric surgery our findings showed similar levels of dysmenorrhoea in our pre-bariatric surgical cohort when compared with the general population of a similar age.6 Hormonal IUSsystems offer protection against dysmenorrhoea, endometrial hyperplasia, pelvic pain and HMB, in addition to providing contraceptive protection, which may be attributed to their high use in our cohort.
Further research is needed to investigate the menstrual changes that occur after bariatric surgery and the effects of gastric bypass procedures on oral hormonal absorption.
Contributors All authors contributed to the writing of this paper, have seen the final version and approve of it.
Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests No, there are no competing interests for any author.
Patient consent All data was anonymised. No personal information is given in this paper.
Ethics approval NHS and University of Sunderland.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.