Do you want to know how to stop heavy periods? Heavy periods can be really common and can have a big impact on people’s lives. Everyone’s period is different but if your period is heavy and causing you trouble then there are some things that can help. Today we are going to talk about what causes heavy periods and what can help.
How do I know if my period is heavy?
It can sometimes be hard to tell if your period is heavy. “Normal” can be different for every woman. Generally, if you are having to change your pad/tampon every 1-2 hours or if you are passing clots the size of a 10p coin then your periods would be considered heavy. Also, if you have to use tampons and pads at the same time. If you are bleeding through your clothes or onto your sheets then your periods are probably heavy.
Heavy periods can also be defined by the length of the period so if you are bleeding for longer than 7 days at a time, this can also be a heavy period. The medical term for heavy periods is menorrhagia.
If you are not sure whether your periods are heavy then this NHS website has a short quiz to help you find out.
Why is my period heavy? Causes of heavy periods
There are several causes of heavy periods and sometimes there is not a specific cause – it is just how your body works. In about half of women there is no specific cause that can be found for heavy periods.
If you find a specific cause for your heavy periods, then there might be specific treatments available to you. Even if there is no cause found though, there are still things that can help.
Fibroids and heavy periods
Fibroids are growths of muscle tissue in the uterus (womb). They can cause heavy periods because they disrupt the surface of the lining of the uterus.
Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that sits on the inside of the uterus (womb) is also found in other locations like the ovaries, fallopian tubes or in the pelvis. This tissue is called the endometrium and is the part that sheds when we bleeding during our period. Endometriosis often causes periods to be painful.
This is similar to endometriosis, but the endometrial tissue becomes embedded in the uterine wall. This also causes periods to be painful.
Endometrial polyps are small outgrowths of tissue that grow inside the womb (uterus) or cervix. They are not cancerous. They disrupt the surface of the uterus and can cause heavy bleeding.
Endometrial cancer is cancer of the lining of the womb (uterus). The most common symptom that it causes is abnormal bleeding, especially after menopause. It can cause heavy bleeding too.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
PID can cause heavy periods. It is an infection that gets into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. It can cause pain, abnormal bleeding, fevers or abnormal discharge.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS affects hormone balance and can cause irregular periods. hormona.io/why-do-i-have-irregular-periods/ It can also cause periods to be heavy.
Clotting disorders and heavy periods
If there is a problem with the way your blood clots, then this can cause heavy periods. The most common example of this is a condition called Von Willebrand disease which often runs in families.
All of the hormone systems in the body are connected and can affect each other. If you have hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) then you might get heavy periods. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, low mood or fatigue.
Diabetes is a hormonal condition. Just like with thyroid disorders, because all the hormone systems are interconnected this can also affect your periods.
Side effects of medical treatments
Some medications can cause periods to become heavier.
The copper IUD (intrauterine device/ “the coil”) can make periods heavier. This is usually just for the first 3-6 months after you have it put in, but can last longer than this.
Medications designed to thin your blood (used to prevent or treat blood clots) will make your periods heavier. This is because the same body systems that cause blood clots are also involved in regulating how much you bleed during your period.
Some chemotherapy or herbal supplements (e.g. soya, ginseng, ginkgo) can also affect your periods.
How to stop heavy periods: Treatments and home remedies to stop prolonged heavy periods
There are lots of treatments for heavy periods. The most suitable one for you will depend on your body, your preferences, other medical conditions and whether you want to have a baby soon or in the future.
Medical treatments for heavy periods
Many of the treatments for heavy periods are also forms of hormonal contraception:
- Intrauterine system (IUS): this sits inside the uterus and releases progesterone. Progesterone limits the growth of the endometrium (lining of the uterus/womb) during your cycle and therefore there is less to bleed when your period comes. An IUS is inserted by a health professional and is often the most successful hormonal treatment for heavy periods.
- The combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP): The COCP works by suppressing your menstrual cycle. There are many different ways to take the pill, one of which is to just take the hormone pills continuously, without having a break for a “period”. If you do decide to have “periods” then they are usually much lighter than before.
- NOTE: I put quote marks around period here as it is often referred to as a “withdrawal bleed” when talking about the COCP. For the purpose of heavy periods though we can think of them as the same thing.
Progesterone tablets: progesterone tablets can also help with heavy bleeding
- IMPORTANT: these are NOT the same as the progesterone-only pill (POP) that is used as a contraceptive. Sometimes the names of the medicines are the same, but the doses are different. This sometimes even confuses doctors so make sure your doctor is giving you the progesterone for heavy bleeding, rather than for contraception.
There are also non-hormonal medicines that can help with heavy periods. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
NSAIDs should be started on the first day of bleeding (or just before your period starts) to have the best effect and taken according to the directions on the packet.
Tranexamic acid can also be helpful in improving heavy periods. They should also be started as soon as you start bleeding and can be taken for up to 4 days at a time (3 times a day).
NSAIDs and tranexamic acid are not contraceptives and won’t impact the chance of you getting pregnant. If you need to, you can take both of these medicines together.
Always check that you don’t have any medical conditions that prevent you from taking specific medications before you start. Ask your doctor if you are not sure.
Surgery for heavy bleeding is always a last resort. It is usually only possible once you have had all your children or if you don’t want children.
Endometrial ablations are used to remove the endometrium (lining of the uterus) to stop the bleeding.
Myomectomy is an operation to remove fibroids if this is what is causing your heavy periods. This procedure can be sometimes be done if you still want to have children but it depends on the size and location of your fibroids.
Hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus. This is usually a last resort in terms of treating heavy bleeding.
Home and natural remedies for heavy periods
These are not likely to change the flow of your periods but if you are feeling other symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy or light-headedness with your heavy periods then these might help. Heavy periods can cause you to become dehydrated or iron deficient. Iron deficiency can also lead to anaemia (low levels of haemoglobin which is used to carry oxygen in your blood) because of heavy bleeding. There is no evidence that diet or supplements will change the flow of your period.
Ensure that you are drinking plenty of water, especially if you are bleeding heavily during your period. This will not change the flow of your period but might help you feel better and manage better with your heavy periods.
Vitamin C is important to help your body absorb iron. You can find Vitamin C in foods like citrus (oranges/grapefruit), strawberries, broccoli, kiwifruit and brussels sprouts.
Iron is found in foods such as red meat, oysters, turkey or chicken, tofu, leafy green veges (like spinach) or beans.
Other tips and tricks for heavy periods
Exercise can help you to manage heavy periods. If you don’t feel like doing strenuous exercise then something like gentle walking or yoga might be helpful.
Using a menstrual cup or period underwear
A menstrual cup holds more blood than a tampon and can help you monitor how heavy you bleeding is. Period underwear can also help give you peace of mind or prevent leakages.
Having heavy periods can be exhausting for your body. Make sure you get plenty of rest when you can.
Why is my period so heavy this month? Should I be worried if it is an isolated case?
There are several reasons that your period might be heavier than usual.
Hormones control how thick the endometrium (lining of the womb) grows each month. A disruption in the hormones can cause it to be thicker (or thinner) than usual and affect how much you bleed.
Periods can also be heavier than usual as you approach menopause or after you have had a baby. These are times when hormone levels are changing so can affect your periods.
Endometrial polyps can cause periods that are not always heavy but change in how heavy they are.
Miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy
A one-off heavy period could also be a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. It is possible to have a miscarriage without ever knowing you were pregnant or without your period being late.
IMPORTANT: an ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you could be pregnant and experience lower abdominal (lower belly) pain and/or vaginal bleeding then it is important to URGENTLY get medical attention.
Certain cancers (e.g. endometrial cancer or cervical cancer) can cause heavy vaginal bleeding. Even though they are not common it is important not to miss them. If you are worried about your bleeding or it has changed then it is important to talk to a doctor.
When to see a doctor about heavy periods
There are a few reasons to see a doctor about heavy menstrual bleeding. Some of those you can just make an appointment with your GP but some warrant going to the hospital.
When should I go to the hospital about my heavy periods?
If you are bleeding and filling more than one pad an hour for at least 2 consecutive hours then please go to the hospital. This could be bleeding for any reason – miscarriage, heavy period or you aren’t sure why you are bleeding. Losing blood this quickly is dangerous if it doesn’t stop. It is important to get medical help urgently. Also, if you are feeling lightheaded/dizzy or like you might pass out with your bleeding please see a doctor urgently.
When can I just make an appointment with my GP?
If your heavy periods are causing you problems then talk to your GP. Problems might include feeling tired and lethargic, having trouble managing your periods or your periods interfering with your daily activities. If you are not actively bleeding as I described above then you have time to talk to your GP about it. Also if your periods have changed, become heavier or you are having other symptoms like spotting/bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex or period pain then you should see a doctor.
You should also see your GP if you have tried any of the treatments above but they are not helping after a few months. Your GP might refer you to a specialist gynaecologist or for further tests if required.
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