Abnormally heavy periods or 'Menorrhagia'
Heavy periods can have a huge impact on women's lives. In fact, it's one of the most common reasons that women will visit their GP. 1 in 3 women today would say that they struggle with heavy periods.
Note that, rather unfairly, those who experience heavier periods as teens, are most likely to experience them during their perimenopause as well.
When your bleeding is heavier, it may last longer than normal. Bleeding is considered heavy if:
- You are leaking through your tampon, pad or clothes
- You require double protection
- Have a period that last long than 7 days
- Requires frequent changing of your tampon or pad.
If you're suffering from very heavy periods you will be losing about 80 mL of blood over the same time period - twice as much as the blood lost in an average period.
A single heavy period can often occur when you have a menstrual cycle without ovulation. This is common when you are approaching menopause. So you may have a couple of normal periods, then experience a longer gap before your next period - this period then being heavier than normal. This can happen repeatedly in the perimenopause.
If every period is heavy, and particularly if your periods are painful as well then it is slightly more likely that you have another cause for your heavy periods, and you should discuss this with your doctor, as you might need blood tests to check for anaemia and an examination. There is no need to suffer in silence, there is help out there.
Some signs you might be experiencing abnormally heavy periods
- Constantly changing your tampons or pads, including waking in the night to do so
- Passing large clots as part of your cycle
- Periods lasting much longer than normal
- Constant lower back or abdominal pain
- Feeling fatigued, weak or dizzy (which could be caused by low iron levels)
Thehas a good tool to help you identify if you're having very heavy periods here. There are many reasons for heavy periods including :
- Fibroids - enlargements in the wall of your uterus. These can thicken your endometrium lining, causing you to shed more blood.
- Endometriosis - When tissue that is meant to line the uterus occurs outside the uterus. This can cause heavy periods and a lot of pain.
- Adenomyosis - a condition where the cells of the lining of the womb (endometrium) are found in the muscle wall of the womb. Around one in 10 women will have adenomyosis, but in some women it causes heavy periods. It can also cause painful periods.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) - A hormonal imbalance where you tend to produce more estrogen and less progesterone. There are many types of PCOS, and is can be associated with either very scanty periods, or occasionally heavy periods
- Endometrial polyps - These are benign growths from your uterus which can cause heavier bleeding.
- Pelvic Inflammatory disease - This is when there’s an infection in your reproductive organs. This can cause many complications - one of which being heavy periods, often associated with pain.
- Perimenopause - your fluctuating hormone levels can cause heavy periods. If you have other symptoms such as hot flushes or night sweats as well it makes this a more likely cause, but see discussion below.
- Endometrial hyperplasia - where the lining of the womb thickens excessively, this can be a pre cancerous state and can be detected by ultrasound and biopsy of the lining of the womb.
- Endometrial and Womb Cancer - They can cause your endometrial lining to thicken, and result in more blood shed. The risk of developing this increases are you get older, and also if you are overweight or obese.
- Other medical problems - thyroid disease, or blood clotting disorders occasionally can also affect your periods.
Periods are a sensitive topic for many. Having Menorrhagia is not usually a sign of serious illness, but can cause anaemia and make you tired. It is completely normal to feel worried about your periods. If they last more than 7 days, are irregularly heavy, or painful then you should discuss it with your doctor as you may need further medical investigation.
There are some good medical treatments for heavy periods, so don't delay asking for help if you need it.
Other things you can do to monitor your periods
1. Consider keeping a period diary - This can ensure that both you and your doctor are keeping track of your bleeding patterns. By keeping track of your bleeding, you may notice heavier blood shed earlier on. The quicker you manage your heavy periods, the easier they will be to handle.
2. Period tracking App - Similar to a period diary, this will allow you to keep track of your periods. This will make it a lot easier to diagnose anything abnormal, as well as provide a medical history on your period cycles.
3. Try to assess your blood loss - If you have an idea of how much blood you should be losing, you can compare this with your own blood loss. Try keeping track of the number of times you change your tampon or pad in one day. This should help you gage whether or not you're losing too much blood in one cycle.