Based on: AAGL: Practice Report: Practice Guidelines for Management of Intrauterine Synechiae, The Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology Vol. 17, No.1 2010.
Practice committee members:
Malcolm Munro MD, FRCS(C), FACOG
Jason A. Abbott, PhD,FRANZCOG,MRCOG
Angus J.M. Thompson, MRCOG
Keith B. Isaacson, MD
Adolf Gallinat, MD
Volker R. Jacobs, MD, PhD, MBA
Fred M. Howard MD
Andrew I. Sokol, MD
Linda D. Bradley, MD
Recently, the Practice Committee of the AAGL developed guidelines for the management of intrauterine adhesions (IUA), published in the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology (2010). This is a welcome initiative, and long-awaited, with over one century passing since the first description of Asherman’s syndrome in the literature (1). Although these guidelines were based on studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals, there are limitations and room for more specific guidelines, as the authors themselves acknowledge, due to a lack of comparative studies and rigorous medical evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs). For example, studies were conducted using different surgical modalities, surgical tools, adjunctive therapies, and hormone therapy protocols. Many studies are also old and/or conducted retrospectively. One of the difficulties of studying IUA is that it is under diagnosed so that many women may not realize they have it. This results in a small sample size for studies, especially when patient treatment is spread between different centers. Additionally, the skills of the surgeon are important in influencing outcome which makes comparisons between different studies difficult. Consequently, drawing meaningful conclusions on treatment is problematic. To circumvent these shortcomings, the authors classified data based on the highest level of evidence found in the data and graded them according to a system outlined by the US Preventive Services Task Force. In most cases the evidence is based primarily on consensus and expert opinion (Level C). Hopefully trials will be forthcoming which meet today’s strict standards of clinical research, and recommendations which are stronger and more specific will result from them.
The goal of IUA management is to restore the volume and architecture of the uterine cavity and its communication with the fallopian tubes and cervical canal by removing IUA, preventing their recurrence and regenerating deficient endometrial growth.
Below is a summary of the recommendations of the article. My additional comments are in blue font.DIAGNOSISHysteroscopy is the most accurate method for diagnosis of IUA and should be chosen over HSG and SHG (although the latter are reasonable alternatives if hysteroscopy is not available).
Although there are several classification systems, none is considered superior over the other, probably reflecting inadequacies in all current systems. (Grade C)
An accurate and universal classification system for IUA is important for enabling the comparison of studies and providing prognostic indicators of fertility outcome. (Grade B)
Only expert hysteroscopists familiar with IUA treatment should attempt to treat extensive or dense adhesions. (Level C)(Surgeons who are inexperienced may inadvertantly cause further irreparable damage).
Direct visualization of the uterus during hysteroscopic lysis of adhesions using a tool for dissection is the treatment of choice for IUA which underlies infertility, recurrent pregnancy loss, pain or other related symptoms. (Level C).
In some women expectant management may be acceptable. (Level C)
(ie. if adhesions are thin and filmy and/or cover a small surface area treatment benefits may not outweigh treatment risks).
Estrogen therapy with or without progestin may reduce reformation of IUAs. (Level B)(Estrogen therapy dose and length will depend on severity. See also Recommendations for Future Research).
Gel barriers such as hyaluronic acid and auto-cross-linked hyaluronic acid gel may reduce IUA recurrence follow surgical correction, however there is not enough data on pregnancy outcomes following their use, so should not be used without more rigorous trials. (Level A)
(Potential problems with gel barriers are that they are difficult to keep in place, become less viscous at body temperature, draining out of the uterus. See also Recommendations for Future Research).
Foley catheter or IUD should not be used routinely after corrective surgery without further data from trials supporting their benefit. This is because they may increase the risk for infection. (Level C)
(There have been reports of IUDs puncturing the uterus. Also, some doctors also believe that intrauterine pressure from balloons can hinder endometrial regeneration. However, both the Foley catheter and the Cook stent-which curiously was not mentioned in the article-have been used successfully (2)).
Supporting or refuting the use of prophylactic antibiotics before, during or after surgical adhesiolysis. (Level C)
(However, antibiotic prophylaxis should be used in the case of barriers, as a foreign object inside the uterus increases the risk of infection. See also Recommendations for Future Research).
Medications to improve blood flow to the endometrium should be used only after being supported by rigorous research. (Level C)(These include low-dose aspirin, Coenzyme Q-10, vitamin E, and Sildenafil citrate.ie. Viagra, and even herbal remedies such as raspberry leaf tea).
Prevention of complications (eg. perforation) or improved outcomes with the use of external imaging techniques or laparoscopy, however these techniques may have advantages in case perforation does occur. (Level B)(Another advantage is that laparoscopy allows the surgeon to view the pelvic cavity where there may be endometriosis (3), especially in the more severe cases where laparoscopy is often used).
There is no evidence to support blind D&C or blind cervical probing in the treatment of IUA (Level C)(The authors state that D&C should not be used because it does not permit accurate diagnosis and classification. The bigger concern should be that blind curettage may cause further and irreversible damage and is the underlying cause of most IUA (4)).
Copper (inflammatory), progestin-releasing (suppress endometrium) and T-shaped IUDs (small surface area) should not be used after adhesiolysis. (Level C)
Laparotomy should be considered as a last resort (eg. when hysteroscopic surgery fails) (Level C)Electrosurgery/laser: There is some disagreement over which tools are best suited for adhesiolysis. Some surgeons prefer to use microscissors and stress that thermal energy tools offer no advantage over scissor dissection with regards to either speed or hemostasis (2). Furthermore, these modalities (including resectoscope, Nd:YAG laser, monopolar/bipolar electrode) deliver energy that can cause injury to surrounding tissues and therefore some believe it is prudent to avoid them for the treatment of IUA (2). Indeed, electrosurgical tools are normally used for endometrial ablation which burns away endometrium and intentionally induces Asherman’s syndrome in women with excessive bleeding. However, other doctors claim that in experienced hands these tools are safe. Which ever the case, this is an issue which probably needs to be further examined to refute any safety concerns.POSTOPERATIVE ASSESSMENT:Follow-up evaluation of the uterine cavity is recommended after treatment of IUA. (Level B).(This is an important factor in determining outcome as adhesions may reform and further surgery may be needed. If a pregnancy occurs in a uterus with IUA, there is a higher likelihood of infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy complications (5). Patients should undergo either HSG, SHG, or in-office hysteroscopy (with as narrow cervical dilation as possible) in order to verify the uterine cavity is free of adhesions. A mid-cycle scan should also be used to measure the endometrial thickness at ovulation. Ideally this should measure 7-8 mm for implantation to be successful. Some women with corrected IUA have thin endometrium which may require hormone treatment to thicken. If adhesions blocking the ostium are present, natural conception is not possible and IVF will be recommended).
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH:
1. Prospective trials on the effect of intraoperative and postoperative antibiotic prophylaxis on surgical and fertility outcome.(I don’t know of doctors who do not use antibiotics during or after operative hysteroscopy. Also, the article states: “…it has been proposed that infection may be a primary cause of IUAs…” Antibiotic prophylaxis is wise for preventing infections whether or not they lead to IUA. However, at this stage, there is actually no evidence to support that most IUAs result from infection, whether frank or subclinical. In fact, there is limited evidence to the contrary (6,7). Also see The subclinical infection myth).2. Prospective trials of adjunctive hormone therapy efficacy with respect to surgical and fertility outcome.(The optimum dosage of estrogen (E2 with or without progestin, P4) and length of treatment have not been studied. Progynova (Estradiol valerate) a synthetic version of a naturally occurring estrogen or Premarin, a combination of around 11 conjugated equine estrogens extracted from pregnant mare urine, are usually used. These compounds have not been compared to each other in trials).
3. Prospective trials of barrier method (IUD, Foley catheter and gel adhesion barriers) efficacy with respect to surgical and fertility outcome.
(Presumably the Cook stent, which is used by some doctors (2), should also be included in trials. Regarding the use of gel adhesion barriers which are potentially the least invasive and risky type of barrier, one questions why there is not more research on their use to prevent IUA from occurring in the first place. If gel barriers are therapeutic for reducing IUA reformation after hysteroscopic adhesiolysis perhaps their use after D&C and other primary intrauterine surgery would reduce the incidence of IUA. There is so far only one study and results show only 10% of women who received Seprafilm after curettage for miscarriage developed IUA vs 50% amongst controls (8)).4. Stem cells for future treatment: As discussed in a previous blog, some cases are currently not treatable because the extent of damage to the basal endometrium (sometimes curettage even removes part of the underlying myometrium) from which the functional layer regenerates. This leads to persistently thin endometrium or reformation of IUA after corrective surgery and excludes the possibility of carrying a pregnancy. Surrogacy is the only option in such cases. However Dr Chaitanya Nagori and Dr Sonal Panchal of Nagori Institute of Infertility in India claim to have used stem cell technology to thicken the endometrium in women who underwent excessive ‘cleaning’ up of the uterus (ie. a euphemism for D&C), although they do not mention the presence of IUA. The process involved isolating adult stem cells from the bone marrow of the patient, transplanting the purified stem cells into the patient’s uterine cavity under transvaginal sonographic guidance, and stimulating the production of endometrial angiogenic stem cells by administering estrogen before IVF treatment. Using this technique they reportedly were able to increase ‘negligible’ endometrial growth to 6mm three months after the transfer and estrogen therapy. Although they assert that IVF drugs alone did not increase the patient’s endometrial measurement, it remains to be proven whether this effect is due to the post-transplant estrogen treatment or from the stem cell therapy. Nonetheless, the concept of using stem cells for tissue repair in the uterus is intriguing, and possibly the best hope in future for very severe cases of IUA (uterine transplant is another future possibility). This could be more convincing if recurrent IUA was prevented with stem cells following hysteroscopic adhesiolysis. Definitive proof would be obtained if the stem cells and their progeny were biochemically labeled so as to be identifiable from the original tissue. This could be done in animal studies, for example. The great advantage of stem cells is that they have the capacity to differentiate into a range of cells that are necessary to rebuild a normal uterus, from myometrium and endometrium to the blood vessels which supply them with blood and hormones. Furthermore, as the stem cells are derived from the patient’s own bone marrow ie. autologous adult stem cells, there is no risk of either rejection or ethical controversy (as with embryonic stem cells). Unfortunately at this stage there are no published studies on this treatment.
1. Fritsch H, Ein Fall von volligem Schwaund der Gebormutterhohle nach Auskratzung. Zentralbl Gynaekol 1894; 18:1337-1342.
2. March, CM; Miller, CE. Hysteroscopic lysis of intrauterine adhesions. Ob.Gyn. News 2006; 41(23):36-37. Abstract
3. Palter. SF, High Rates of Endometriosis in Patients With Intrauterine Synechiae (Asherman's Syndrome). Fertility and Sterility 2005; 86 (null):S471-S471. Link
4. Palter S, Spyrou P. Asherman’s syndrome: Etiologic factors, patterns of pregnancy loss, and treatment results. Results from an international registry. Fertility and Sterility 2003; 80(3):36-7. Link
5. March CM. Intrauterine adhesions. Obstet Gynecol Clin N Am 1995;22(3):491-505. Abstract
6. Jensen, P.A. and Stromme, W.B. Amenorrhea secondary to puerperal curettage (Asherman's syndrome). Am J Obstet Gynecol 1972; 113: 150–4.
7. Polishuk, SO Anteby and D Weinstein, Puerperal endometritis and intrauterine adhesions, Int Surg 1975;60:418–420. Abstract
8. Tsapanos VS, Stathopoulou LP, Papathanassopoulou VS, Tzingounis VA. The role of Seprafilm bioresorbable membrane in the prevention and therapy of endometrial synechiae. Biomed Material Res. 2002;63:10-14. Abstract
Related Links:Good news: Grow endometrium by stem cells. (Times of India)
Level A: Recommendations are based on good and consistent scientific evidence.
Level B: Recommendations are based on limited or incomsistent scientific evidence.
Level C: Recommendations are based primarily on consensus and expert opinion.