Endometrial ablation

Expert reviewer Miss Shirin Irani, Consultant Gynaecologist
Next review due May 2023

Endometrial ablation (womb ablation) is a surgical treatment to treat heavy periods (menorrhagia). During the procedure, most of your womb (uterus) lining will be destroyed or removed. This may stop your periods completely or they may become lighter.

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About endometrial ablation

A specialist doctor (gynaecologist) may recommend you have endometrial ablation if you have very heavy periods that affect your daily life. The procedure involves breaking down the lining of your womb without removing your womb. Although your womb isn’t removed, endometrial ablation isn’t a suitable treatment if you plan to have children in the future.

You can have the procedure any time, but your doctor may decide to do the ablation just after your period ends. This is when your womb lining is at its thinnest.

Preparation for endometrial ablation

Your doctor will talk to you about what you’ll need to do before your operation. If you smoke, it’s a good idea to make every effort to stop before your procedure because smoking can slow down your recovery.

Endometrial ablation is usually done as a day-case procedure. This means you can have the procedure and go home on the same day.

You’ll have the operation under local or general anaesthesia, depending on which type of ablation you have. If you have general anaesthesia, you’ll be asleep during the procedure. Your hospital will give you clear instructions on when to stop eating and drinking. This is usually from around six hours before your procedure – but always follow your doctor or anaesthetist’s advice. Local anaesthesia completely blocks feeling in your cervix and you’ll stay awake during surgery.

You may be asked to wear compression stockings, which will help prevent blood clots forming in the veins in your legs (deep vein thrombosis).

Your doctor will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your surgery. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask. No question is too small. It’s important that you feel fully informed so you’re in a position to give your consent for the operation to go ahead. You’ll be asked to sign a consent form.

Endometrial ablation procedure

Endometrial ablation usually takes around half an hour.

There are several different types of endometrial ablation. For some of the techniques, your doctor will pass a thin camera called a hysteroscope through your vagina and cervix to see inside your womb. Or they may use ultrasound.

Your doctor will use instruments to destroy or remove the lining of your womb. There are different ways to do this – the main ways are listed below.

  • Radiofrequency. Your doctor will put a probe through your cervix and into your womb, which will send electromagnetic energy into the lining of your womb. The energy destroys the lining.
  • Freezing. Your doctor will put a thin probe into your womb and freeze its lining. They’ll use an ultrasound scan to help guide them.
  • Heated fluid. Your doctor will pass fluid through a hysteroscope into your womb. The fluid is heated and stays in your womb for about 10 minutes. The heat destroys the lining of your womb.
  • Heated balloon. Your doctor will put a balloon into your womb and pass heated fluid into it, which expands the balloon until it touches the lining of your womb. The heat from the balloon destroys your womb lining.
  • Electrosurgery. Your doctor will put a device called a resectoscope through your cervix and into your womb. The resectoscope has an electrical wire loop or roller-ball that destroys the lining.
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Aftercare for endometrial ablation

If you had local anaesthesia, you may be able to go home soon after your operation. It’s a good idea to ask a family member or a friend to drive you home.

If you had general anaesthesia, you’ll need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off. You’ll stay in hospital for about three to four hours after the endometrial ablation. Ask someone to drive you home and to stay with you for the first 24 hours. After a general anaesthetic, you may find you’re not so coordinated or that it’s difficult to think clearly. This should pass within 24 hours. In the meantime, don’t drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign anything important. Always follow your doctor’s advice.

Your doctor will discuss any follow-up care with you.

Recovering from endometrial ablation

It may take you a few days to recover and heal from endometrial ablation. But everyone’s different and it’s important to go at your own pace.

You’ll probably have some vaginal bleeding for a few days after your procedure, like a light period. Sometimes this can last up to a month. You can use sanitary towels until the bleeding stops – it’s best not to use tampons. If your discharge becomes smelly or changes colour or you have pain and feel unwell, you may have an infection. You should contact the unit where you had your surgery or your GP.

Wait until any vaginal discharge or bleeding has stopped before you have sex. And most importantly, wait until you feel ready.

You may have some stomach cramps. Your hospital may give you some pain-relief medicine before you leave. Or you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your nurse or pharmacist for advice.

You may feel tired for the first few days. Ask family or a friend for some help and support with day-to-day activities, such as food shopping or looking after children if you have them.

Depending on your job, you should be able to go back to work two to five days after your endometrial ablation. But this will depend on how physically demanding your job is, and how many hours you work. You may need to return to work gradually over a week or so.

It’s unlikely that you can get pregnant after endometrial ablation but it’s still possible. So you’ll need to use contraception after the procedure until you’ve been through the menopause.

Side-effects of endometrial ablation

Endometrial ablation may cause some side-effects. These include:

  • tiredness for a few days
  • needing to go to the toilet often (to pee) for the first 24 hours
  • cramping pains or discomfort, similar to period pains, but this won’t last too long – a few hours to a few days
  • some vaginal bleeding and discharge, which may last for up to four weeks

Complications of endometrial ablation

Possible complications of endometrial ablation include:

  • an infection
  • damage to your cervix, vagina, womb, bladder or bowel – you may need more surgery to repair the damage
  • burns to your womb, vagina or skin when heated liquids and probes are used

If you notice any pain or feel like something isn’t quite right, see your doctor or seek urgent medical advice.

Considerations for endometrial ablation

It’s important to take your time to decide whether endometrial ablation is the right treatment for you. There are different types of womb ablation – one of these may be more suitable for you than the others. Talk to your doctor about the different options and if endometrial ablation is a good choice for you.

Here are some things to consider.

  • The operation can ease heavy periods and is often better than using medicines.
  • You’re less likely to have complications with endometrial ablation than with a hysterectomy (surgery to remove your whole womb).
  • You’re most likely have lighter periods after endometrial ablation – you may even stop having periods altogether. But there’s a chance that you won’t notice any change at all. If endometrial ablation doesn’t control your bleeding, you may need further treatment.
  • It may not be the best treatment if you have pain as well as heavy periods – hysterectomy may be a better option.
  • There’s a chance that your heavy periods may come back and you might need more surgery, such as another endometrial ablation or hysterectomy.

Endometrial ablation isn’t always a suitable treatment – for more information, see our FAQ: Can anyone have endometrial ablation? And although it’s unlikely you’ll get pregnant after having endometrial ablation, it isn’t impossible. If you do get pregnant, you’re more at risk of miscarriage and other complications. So if you want to have children or more children in the future, endometrial ablation isn’t the right treatment for you.

Alternatives to endometrial ablation

If endometrial ablation isn’t right for you, there may be some other options available to you. Your doctor may suggest you try some of these before you have endometrial ablation.

  • Intrauterine system (IUS) is a plastic T-shaped device that’s put in your womb and releases a hormone. It works by thinning the lining of your womb and reducing bleeding.
  • Medicines such as the combined oral contraceptive pill or tranexamic acid may reduce the amount of blood you lose during each period.

If all other treatment options aren’t suitable, you may be offered a hysterectomy to remove your womb. But this should be a final option because hysterectomy is more likely to cause complications than if you have endometrial ablation.

Frequently asked questions

  • Endometrial ablation isn’t suitable for everyone. Your doctor will advise you about whether it’s right for you.

    Endometrial ablation isn’t recommended if you:

    • want to have children or more children
    • are under 35
    • have or have recently had an infection in your pelvis
    • have recently been pregnant
    • have or may have womb cancer

    Your doctor may also suggest a different type of treatment if:

    • you’ve had a type of surgery called myomectomy to treat fibroids
    • your uterus (womb) is an unusual shape or size
    • you have fluid in your fallopian tube – this is known as hydrosalpinx
    • you’ve had a caesarean delivery – your doctor may need to check the thickness of your scar before going ahead with the procedure

    For more information about treatment options, speak to your doctor.

  • Fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumours that grow in or on the muscular wall of your womb (uterus). Sometimes fibroids can cause heavy periods and/or pain in your pelvis.

    Whether or not you can have endometrial ablation depends on how big and exactly where your fibroids are. With older techniques of endometrial ablation, you couldn’t have the procedure if your fibroids were more than 3cm. But with newer techniques now available, it might be possible. Ask your doctor if it’s an option for you.

    Endometrial ablation doesn’t always work if you have fibroids. Treatments to remove fibroids include uterine artery embolisation (UAE), which is a procedure that cuts off the blood supply to them. This causes the fibroids to shrink. Another option is a hysterectomy (removal of your womb).

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  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, May 2020
    Expert reviewer, Mr Robin Crawford, Consultant Gynaecologist
    Next review due May 2023