Norethisterone for heavy periods

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  • Preparations mentioned in this leaflet are not suitable for contraceptive use. If you need contraception you should discuss this with your doctor.
  • Your dose of norethisterone will depend upon the reason you are taking it. Follow the directions your doctor gives you carefully.
  • Common side-effects are bloating, breast tenderness, nausea, headache, and dizziness.
Type of medicine Progestogen (female hormone)
Used for Heavy periods
Also called Primolut N®, Utovlan®
Available as Tablets

Norethisterone is a man-made form of progesterone, a naturally occurring female sex hormone. It is referred to as a progestogen and it has a number of uses. Low doses are used to prevent pregnancy, or as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Medium-strength tablets such as Primolut N® and Utovlan® are used to treat heavy periods (menorrhagia), and high-strength tablets are sometimes used in some female cancers such as breast cancer. There are a number of other leaflets which will give you more information about norethisterone if you are taking it for contraception or as HRT. These are: 'Progestogen-only contraceptive tablets', 'Norethisterone contraceptive injection', 'Combined hormonal contraceptives', and 'Oestrogen and progestogen for HRT'.

This leaflet discusses norethisterone when it is used to treat heavy periods. Although other treatment options for heavy periods are more common, norethisterone is sometimes considered if other treatments have not worked or are unsuitable. Norethisterone treatment aims to reduce the amount of blood loss. When taking norethisterone in this way, it does not act as a contraceptive.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking norethisterone it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • If you have diabetes, epilepsy, migraines, high blood pressure, or asthma.
  • If you have ever had depression.
  • If you have liver or kidney problems.
  • If you have heart or blood vessel problems, or if you have ever had a blood clot in your leg or lung.
  • If you have ever had cancer.
  • If you have ever had jaundice, severe itching, or a skin condition called pemphigoid gestationis during a pregnancy.
  • If you have porphyria (a rare inherited blood disorder).
  • If you are taking other medicines, including those available to buy without a prescription, herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to any medicine.
  • Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about the specific brand of norethisterone you have been given, and a full list of possible side-effects from taking it.
  • Take norethisterone exactly as your doctor has told you. Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you how many tablets to take each day and which days of the month to take them on. Your dose will also be on the label of the pack.
  • Try to take your doses at the same time of day, as this will help you to avoid missing any.
  • You may take the tablets before or after food.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember (unless it is nearly time for your next dose, in which case leave out the missed dose). Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress.
  • Norethisterone tablets used to treat heavy periods are not suitable for contraceptive use. If you need contraception, you should discuss this with your doctor.
  • Once you have finished taking a course of norethisterone, you will usually have a period a couple of days after taking your last tablet. If you do not have a period, speak with your doctor, as it is important to make sure that you are not pregnant before taking any more tablets.
  • If you have diabetes you may need to check your blood glucose more frequently, as these tablets may affect the levels of sugar in your blood. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking norethisterone.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with your other medicines.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common norethisterone side-effects What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling sick Stick to simple meals - avoid rich and spicy foods. If you are not already doing so, try taking your tablets after a meal
Headache Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller. If the headache is unusually severe or continues, speak with your doctor straightaway
Dizziness, breast tenderness, bloating, changes in weight, feeling tired or difficulty sleeping, feeling depressed, lack of interest in sex, skin reactions If any of these become troublesome, speak with your doctor

Important: if you experience any of the following uncommon but serious symptoms, stop taking norethisterone and contact your doctor for advice straightaway:

  • Any feeling of pain and tightness in your chest.
  • Any disturbances of your vision or hearing.
  • Any unusually severe headaches.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the whites if your eyes).

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
  • Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that someone has taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
  • This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
  • Never keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
  • If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • British National Formulary; 63rd Edition (Mar 2012) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London
  • Manufacturer's PIL, Utovlan® tablets; Manufacturer's PIL, Utovlan® tablets, Pharmacia Limited, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated January 2009.
  • Manufacturer's PIL, Primolut N®,; Manufacturer's PIL, Primolut N®, Bayer plc, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated December 2008.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
3624 (v24)
Last Checked:
18/05/2012
Next Review:
18/05/2015
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