Heavy Periods: Causes & Solutions
If you have a heavy period, you don't need me to tell you the symptoms: bleeding through period products once every hour, doubling up on pads and tampons to prevent leaks, passing large blood clots, symptoms of anemia.
The medical term for a heavy menstrual bleeding is menorrhagia. The average woman loses about 4-8 teaspoons of menstrual blood over an average of 3-5 days. And although most women do not experience enough blood loss to have menorrhagia, having a heavy flow is still frustrating.
Heavy periods can keep you from participating in activities you would normally join outside of your period. Thankfully heavy periods and menhorragia don't need to reign your period. Here's everything you need to know about how to control your flow.
What Causes Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Specialists don't know why some periods are heavier than others. However, having a heavy flow can be a sign of a pre-existing condition. Talk to your doctor if you believe you may be at risk for any of the following:
- Hormone Imbalance – Imbalance in estrogen and progesterone levels can cause a buildup of uterine lining. This added buildup will be shed during menstruation, causing a heavier flow. Common conditions associated with hormone imbalance include polycystic ovary syndrome, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, thyroid problems, and obesity.
- Growths in the uterus – Polyps are growths within the lining of the uterus, while uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow within the uterus. And while fibroids are often non-cancerous, they can result in painful and uncomfortable symptoms including heavy and prolonged periods. Polyps are sometimes cancerous growths that also result in heavy menstrual bleeding. Heavy periods are not the sole symptom for either uterine fibroids or polyps, but some women are at greater risk of developing fibroids and/or polyps. Talk to your ob-gyn if you have a family history of fibroids, polyps, or other uterine growths.
- Adenomyosis – A condition marked by endometrial tissue that has begun to grow within the walls of the uterus.
- IUD – One of the well-known side effects from IUD contraception is heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Pregnancy Complications – Some pregnancies go unnoticed, resulting in a miscarriage that can be mistaken for a heavier-than-normal period. Alternately, some pregnancies position the placenta in an unusual location, also causing heavy menstrual periods.
- Cancer – There are many other symptoms of uterine and cervical cancer, however one of the symptoms does include heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Other Bleeding Disorders – Certain bleeding disorders that impair the body's ability to coagulate can result in abnormal periods. Van Willebrand Disease is an example of a bleeding disorder caused by a missing blood-clotting protein. Most people with the disease are born with it, though its symptoms may not show up for years.
- Medications – Check your medications! Some prescriptions have side-effects that can contribute to hormone imbalance or heavy bleeding. Talk to your doctor if it's time to make a change.
- Other Medical Conditions – Complications with any part of your endocrine system (including liver, kidneys, and thyroid) can cause heavy menstrual bleeding.
Keep in mind that age can affect the presence of heavy menstruation. Teenagers are more prone to experience heavy flow and irregular periods in the first year of their first menstrual cycle.
Schedule annual visits with your ob-gyn to ensure that you are in good health and experiencing normal flow. Your ob-gyn can help you find the causes of abnormal bleeding through blood tests, an exam of the pelvic area, or a hysteroscopy.
Complications of Heavy Bleeding
- Anemia – Too much blood loss can result in lower-than-average iron levels. Iron is used to transport oxygen between red blood cells within your body. Too little iron can result in feelings of fatigue, dizziness, or malaise. If you experience heavy periods that cause menstrual anemia symptoms, certain foods – dark leafy vegetables, meat, fish, and tofu – can help restore low iron levels caused by blood loss.
- Cramping – This needs no explanation.
Having one of more of these symptoms isn't an iron-clad way to diagnose yourself with menorrhagia. Truly, the most surefire way to know that your periods are too heavy is that they are interfering with your ability to enjoy life.
Making Menorrhagia Better
Thankfully, there are a lot of options to control the impact of heavy bleeding. Oftentimes, heavy bleeding can be helped with any combination of diet and exercise and change of period products.
Fight Bleeding Nutrition
Diet has a huge impact on the way your body performs. And while you can't necessarily eat your way to a lighter period, you can reduce some of the aches and pains that come from having a heavy menstrual period.
Regular moderate exercise can help reduce your menstrual flow as well as decrease other common period symptoms like cramps (BONUS!). Exercise doesn't have to be an all out training session to be effective. Join an ax-throwing league (yep, they are totally it right now), sneak into the neighbor's yard to take a dip in their pool, or go out disco night at a roller-rink. Physical exercise will help with decreasing heavy periods and their mean-spirited associates – cramps and bad moods.
Dump Your Stress
Stress is not your BFF, and lots of stress can wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle and your body overall. Stress can cause your period to be irregular in addition to causing a buildup of the uterine lining (Boo!!!). Sort of like the build up of snow on your house in the winter, the buildup can shed under its own weight, causing heavy, prolonged bleeding.
The awesome part about getting rid of your stress means doing the things you love to do, like eating chocolate! Going for a walk with a friend, seeing a great movie, or soaking in a hot tub are all great stress relievers.
Medication for Heavy Bleeding
Some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been known to cut menstrual bleeding in half. Talk to your health care professional to see if NSAID's are a good choice for you.
Your doctor might also prescribe hormonal birth control pills or Depo-provera to help you with your heavy and/or painful periods. Birth control is a great way to help balance hormones levels, regulate period cycles, and lessen the build-up of uterine lining. Birth control might be a good option if you also suffer from irregular or prolonged periods.
Change Menstrual Products
If you are filling your pads and tampons more quickly than you can change them, it may be time to consider switching menstrual products.
Menstrual discs can be worn for up to 12 hours. Discs hold up to five tampons worth of menstrual fluid, which is the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of fluid. What's cool about a menstrual disc is that they can hold up to 3 or 4 times the amount of menstrual blood than a super-absorbent tampon. In addition, a menstrual disc, when put in correctly, has a very high protection against leaks.
Also, Flex menstrual discs can help you live as you normally would outside of your period. Flex menstrual discs sit in the fornix, the space where the cervix meets the vagina. They are more comfortable than a tampon, not linked to infections, and have been proven to lighten cramps, better catch blood clots, and accommodate heavy menstrual bleeding.
Wrapping it Up
Heavy bleeding can be controlled. Check with your ob-gyn if you are worried about pre-existing conditions that result in heavy bleeding. While heavy bleeding is not always a sign of an underlying condition, regular checkups with your general care practitioner can help put the mind at ease.
Menorrhagia does not have to rule your life. Menorrhagia doesn't even have to rule your period week. Have a better period. Try Flex.