A new technique - endometrial ablation - for treating heavy periods has potentially fatal side effects.
Four 'generally healthy' women who had the treatment for 'dysfunctional bleeding' went on to develop encephalopathy (brain inflammation). One of them subsequently died when she stopped breathing after suffering seizures.
Endometrial ablation consists of removing most of the lining of the uterus using a laser and has recently grown in popularity as an alternative to hysterectomy. During the technique an 'irrigating solution' is continuously infused into the uterus to wash away debris and 'facilitate surgical visualization'. In the four women, it seems enough of this solution was absorbed into their bodies to cause encephalitis.
The researchers recommend that, during the operation, surgeons should be alert to such signs as falling body temperature, 'tremulousness', or dilated pupils. Plasma sodium levels should be immediately checked and they should give 'serious consideration of termination of the procedure'.
This new evidence follows earlier stories that the much-hailed procedure caused permanent damage (see WDDTY vol 2 nos 1 and 5).- JAMA, 8 September 1993.