Discusses gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRH-a), medicines used to treat endometriosis. Includes generic and brand names such as leuprolide acetate (Lupron Depot). Covers how they work and possible side effects.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Agonist (GnRH-a) Therapy for Endometriosis
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists
How these medicines are taken
Goserelin is injected into the fat tissue of the belly.
Leuprolide is given as a shot under the skin or as a shot in the muscle.
Nafarelin is a nasal spray.
How It Works
GnRH-a therapy decreases production of
estrogen to the levels women have after
menopause. This decrease:
GnRH-a therapy is limited to a short period of time (3 to 6
months). For some women, the benefits of treatment are only a temporary
solution, lasting several months. For others, relief is long-lasting.
Why It Is Used
agonist (GnRH-a) therapy is widely used to shrink endometriosis implants, which
relieves pain. GnRH-a therapy is usually a second-choice treatment that is used
when several months of birth control pill therapy have not been
GnRH-a therapy is sometimes used before surgery to make
implants easier to remove. This can help reduce the amount of scar tissue
created by the surgery.
Like all hormone therapies and
surgery for endometriosis, GnRH-a therapy does not cure the disease.
Up to 90 out of 100 women report full or partial pain relief after 6 months of
GnRH-a therapy. Treatment also shrinks endometriosis implants in about 90 out of 100
GnRH-a therapy after surgery can extend pain relief by
preventing the growth of new or returning endometriosis.3
After GnRH-a treatment, or any
other hormone therapy, endometriosis pain can return.4
About 35 out of 100 women who use hormone therapy for mild endometriosis have pain 5 years later.
About 75 out of 100 women who use hormone therapy for severe endometriosis have pain 5 years later.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor if you have:
A fast or irregular heartbeat.
Bone, muscle, or joint pain.
Anxiety, depression, or other mood changes.
Bleeding between menstrual periods.
Common side effects of this medicine include:
An irregular menstrual period (or no menstrual period at all).
Vaginal burning, itching, or dryness.
Decreased sexual interest.
Thinning of the bones.
Increased acne or oily skin or hair.
An irritated or runny nose (nafarelin only).
Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in
What To Think About
These medicines are given as a shot or a nasal spray. You will get instructions on how to give the shot or use the nasal spray. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about how to take your medicine correctly.
Add-back therapy. Many doctors are prescribing GnRH-a therapy in combination with other medicines such as low-dose estrogen and progestin to control
bone thinning and decrease the side effects of menopause, such as hot flashes.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (2012). Endometriosis and infertility: A committee opinion. Fertility and Sterility, 98(3): 591–598.
Lobo RA (2012). Endometriosis: Etiology, pathology, diagnosis, management. In GM Lentz et al., eds., Comprehensive Gynecology, 6th ed., pp. 433–452. Philadelphia: Mosby.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Management of endometriosis. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 114. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(1): 225–236.
Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Endometriosis. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 1221–1248. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.