Heavy menstrual bleeding (called menorrhagia by health care professionals) is defined as soaking a pad and/or tampon every hour or less during each menstrual cycle.
For many women, heavy menstrual bleeding is a huge obstacle in their day to day lives. Imagine having to reschedule activities or go home from work because you have soaked through your sanitary towel? Many women know the horrible feeling.
Heavy bleeding can be more than a mere inconvenience but it can also lead to iron-deficient anemia which is the most common health-related threat of menorrhagia. While most cases of anemia are easily treated with oral iron supplements, sometimes the bleeding is so severe a woman's entire volume of blood drops, leading to shortness of breath, severe fatigue and heart palpitations that requires a lengthy hospital stay.
If this sounds all too familiar to you, we are here to shine a light on the scourge of heavy periods and perhaps help you find some light relief.
Heavy menstrual bleeding may be caused by a variety of issues going on in your body but one of the biggest factors is to do with your hormones.
Hormones are the driving force behind your menstrual cycle. The female hormones estrogen and progesterone help prepare a woman's body for a possible pregnancy by thickening the uterine lining, called the endometrium. If the released egg isn't fertilised, hormone levels will go down and the body will shed the endometrium, which results in bleeding otherwise known as your period.
Changes in hormone levels and as you approach menopause as well as using certain types of birth control can result in unusual bleeding, be it too heavy, too light or not at all.
Difficulties with blood clotting can be another cause of heavy menstrual bleeding. If the body has trouble forming clots, heavy menstrual bleeding can result. If you're concerned about your body's lack of ability to clot, visit your doctor right away before it gets worse.
Other possible causes of abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding include:
- Uterine cancer
- Uterine fibroids
- Endometrial polyps
- Fluctuations in weight, a very restricted diet, or high levels of stress
- Bleeding disorders
- Conditions related to pregnancy
There are various treatment options for heavy periods. These depend on what's causing your heavy periods, your general health and what will work best for you.
- an intrauterine system (IUS) – a small device that contains the hormone progestogen is inserted in your womb by a medical professional (often the first treatment offered)
- medicines without hormones – such as tranexamic acid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
- medicines with hormones – such as the combined oral contraceptive pill or progestogen tablets
- endometrial ablation – a procedure to remove the lining of the womb
- myomectomy – surgery to remove fibroids
- uterine artery embolisation – a procedure to shrink fibroids
- hysterectomy – surgery to remove to the womb