BALTIMORE, Maryland ― Using norethindrone acetate to induce scheduled bleeds in women of reproductive age using etonogestrel implants for contraception may reduce the amount of bothersome bleeding associated with the devices. The bleeding causes some women to have the vice removed, according to research presented at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 2023 Annual Meeting.
In a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of 51 patients desiring the implants ― which suppress ovulation by releasing progestin over a 3-year period ― taking norethindrone acetate for 1 week every 4 weeks led to 80% of participants in the treatment group reporting satisfactory bleeding patterns with the etonogestrel implants in place.
Rates of early discontinuation have been variable, according to published literature, ranging from 13% to 21.1%, said Jordan Gray, MD, a fourth-year resident in ob/gyn at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center, in Temple, Texas, who helped conduct the new study. Reasons included bothersome bleeding. Gray and her colleagues found that 24% of women in the placebo group requested removal of the implant, compared with 9% of those in the treatment group. Among these women, none requested removal for bothersome bleeding but rather for reasons such as wanting to get pregnant. One person requested removal because she did not like amenorrhea, Gray said.
While the results of the study did not achieve statistical significance, owing to its size and noncompliance among some participants, it does indicate that norethindrone acetate may be helpful, Gray said.
During the study, participants in the treatment group (n = 22) received a monthly treatment regimen of 5 mg of oral norethindrone acetate daily for 7 days each month for the first 6 months after placement of an etonogestrel implant. The placebo group (n = 29) was given inert tablets prescribed in the same regimen. Both groups received products from a mail order pharmacy.
Participants were women aged 18–48 years who desired an implant or those aged 14 years who had permission from a parent or guardian to receive the contraceptive. The study excluded people with known or suspected pregnancy, those less than 8 weeks’ postpartum, those who experienced menarche less than 2 years ago, those with body mass index greater than 40, and those who received depot medroxyprogesterone acetate within the previous 12 weeks. Excessive bleeding was defined as bleeding or spotting on more than 7 consecutive days or a fifth episode of bleeding in 90 days.
Overall, 11 patients (38%) in the placebo group and 10 (45%) in the treatment arm withdrew from the study. Reasons included wanting to get pregnant, mood changes, or noncompliance with study parameters, which included not responding or returning bleeding diaries, Gray said.
A limitation of the study was that compliance was less than expected. In addition, there were challenges with rates of responses, Gray said. The study was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when all in-person visits were transitioned to telehealth, she noted. Although the investigators offered payment to participants, not all returned text-message surveys. The researchers had intended to enroll 124 participants but curtailed the study early, owing to the limited number of participants.
Given that there is no standard approach to treating prolonged or excessive bleeding with etonogestrel implants, Gray said, “Our data suggests that this regimen is a simple and acceptable method to treat bothersome bleeding and that predictable bleeding may be more satisfactory than unpredictable bleeding.”
Veronica Maria Pimentel, MD, moderator of the session and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and director of research for the ob/gyn residency program at St. Francis Hospital, part of Trinity Health of New England in Hartford, Connecticut, praised the researchers for a well-designed study.
“However, unfortunately, they were not able to recruit the number of patients that they needed in order to achieve the power to show the difference [between treatment arms], so another study would have to be done to show if there is a difference,” Pimentel told Medscape Medical News.
Pimentel complimented Gray following her presentation, congratulating her for conducting a randomized controlled trial: “That’s not easy, as you have shown, but it’s also a good try, so you can actually see how hard it is to obtain quality data from research.”
The study was supported in part by a research grant from the Investigator-Initiated Studies Program of Organon. Gray is a consultant for Johnson & Johnson. Pimentel has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 2023 Annual Meeting: Abstract 1380127. Presented May 21, 2023.
Karen Blum is a freelance medical/science writer in the Baltimore area.
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