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Menstrual and Reproductive Issues in Adolescents With Physical and Developmental Disabilities

Quint, Elisabeth H., MD

doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000387
Contents: Clinical Expert Series
Expert Discussion
Spanish Translation

Most obstetrician–gynecologists will encounter adolescents with disabilities in their practice, because developmental and physical disabilities are common in young patients (8.4%). Reproductive health issues such as puberty, sexuality, and menstruation can be more complicated for teenagers with disabilities and their families as a result of concerns surrounding menstrual hygiene, abuse risk, vulnerability, changes in seizure pattern, and altered mood. Teenagers with disabilities have gynecologic health care needs similar to those of their peers as well as unique needs related to their physical and cognitive issues. The gynecologic health visit for a teenager with disabilities should include an evaluation of the teenager's reproductive knowledge as well as an assessment of her abuse and coercion risk and her ability to consent to sexual activity. The menstrual history is focused on the effects of menstrual cycles on her daily life. Diagnostic testing is not different from other adolescents. Hormonal treatment is often requested by the patient and her family to alleviate abnormal bleeding, cyclic mood changes, dysmenorrhea, or a combination of these, to assist with menstrual hygiene, and to provide contraception. Menstrual manipulation can be used to induce complete amenorrhea, regulate cycles, or decrease regular menstrual flow. However, treatment risks and side effects may have a different effect on the lives of these adolescents. The comfort level of health care providers to respond to the special concerns of adolescents with disabilities is low, and several barriers exist. This review addresses the complex issues of puberty, menstruation, sexuality, abuse, and safety highlighting the distinctive needs of this population. The options and decisions around menstrual manipulation are highlighted in detail.

The complex issues of puberty, menstruation, and sexuality can significantly affect the quality of life of adolescents with disabilities, and menstrual manipulation may be indicated.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Corresponding author: Elisabeth H. Quint, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan Health System, 1500 E Medical Center Drive, Women's Hospital, L4000, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; e-mail:

Financial Disclosure The author did not report any potential conflicts of interest.

Continuing medical education for this article is available at

© 2014 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.