[en] BACKGROUND: Levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS), although inserted to reduce heavy menstruation, causes irregular early transient bleeding. The objective of the study was to document quantitative changes in endometrial vessels of short- (< or =3 months) and long-term (> or =12 months) LNG users. The area, density and maturation of endometrial vessels were quantified in 19 endometrial biopsies of women with LNG-IUS and in 10 normally ovulating patients during mid-luteal phase. METHODS: Vessel maturation was evaluated by double immunostaining using anti-von Willebrand factor (endothelial cell marker) and anti-alpha Smooth Muscle Actin (vascular smooth muscle cells) antibodies. Vessel area, number and density were quantified with a novel computer-assisted image analysis system. RESULTS: Endometrium exposed to LNG-IUS for 1-3 months displayed a 11.5-fold increase in small naked vessel number. The partially mature vessel (alphaSMA partially positive) number increased six times. After long-term LNG-IUS treatment, the immature and partially mature vessel number remained four times higher than in the control group. Vessel area and density also increased dramatically in a time-dependent pattern with LNG-IUS use. CONCLUSIONS: Levonorgestrel affects blood vessel number, area, density and maturation in a time-dependent pattern that may explain the early transient increase in breakthrough bleeding with the LNG-IUS.