Every woman’s body is different. There are all kinds of heights, shapes, hair colors, and shoe sizes. Menstrual cycles are no different. What seems normal for one woman could be completely out of the ordinary for another.
While some women have light periods and others are naturally heavier, there are times when heavy periods become extreme and can signal an underlying problem. So how do you tell the difference between normal and what is too much?
Should I be concerned?
A woman’s menstrual cycle can last anywhere from two to seven days and whether it’s heavy or light can depend on many factors. What’s normal is up to you and your body. However, if you suspect your period is heavier than it should be, there may be a problem.
Abnormally heavy bleeding is defined as being greater than 80 milliliters per cycle. Since this is often impossible to measure, a good way to tell is by judging the frequency at which you have to change your sanitary pad or tampon. If you have to change it every couple of hours or less, your bleeding may be heavier than normal.
Another way to judge is by the size and amount of blood clots in your period. If there is a lot of clotting or clots greater than one inch in diameter, this could also signal an underlying issue.
What causes heavy bleeding?
There are many factors that may be causing extreme bleeding. Often, it can simply be a hormone imbalance or change, such as the approach of menopause or the side effects of birth control.
Sometimes it can be a more serious problem. The following can all be causes of heavy menstrual bleeding:
- Uterine cancer: This is a cancer that begins in the uterus and is usually characterized with abnormal bleeding, along with urinary pain or pain during intercourse.
- Uterine fibroids: These are noncancerous tumors that grow on or in the muscular wall of the uterus. They often affect women in their 30’s and 40’s.
- Infection: A main cause is pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs. It can cause serious damage if left unnoticed, but can be treated with antibiotics.
- Extreme changes in weight: A restricted diet or high levels of stress can cause weight to fluctuate, which can trigger changes in the menstrual cycle.
- Conditions related to pregnancy: A miscarriage can look like a heavy period. If you’re pregnant and you begin bleeding, call your doctor.
The best way to find out what is causing a heavy period is to talk to your doctor. Many problems like these can be detected early through something as simple as a physical exam or an ultrasound.
If your period is heavy due to a hormone change, it can often be reversed through hormone supplements or switching to a different type of contraceptive.
For some of the more severe issues, treatment can vary. Infections like pelvic inflammatory disorder can usually be treated with antibiotics. Cancer treatments depend on the stage and location of the cancer within the uterus, and can involve anything from chemotherapy to surgery.
For uterine fibroids, a procedure called uterine fibroid embolization maymake a world of difference. The treatment involves a small incision to the femoral artery and the injection of small spheres that block the blood flow to the fibroids, causing them to shrink.
No matter what the issue, make sure you talk to your doctor about what would be best for you. Just like every woman has a different shape, size, and menstrual cycle, treatment options vary for everyone. What works for one woman may not work for you.
Menstrual cycles can tell us a lot about our bodies. If you’re experiencing pain or other symptoms that you think might be problematic, check out some of our other blog posts: What Could Be Causing My Period Pain? or When Your Period Signals a Problem.
PLEASE NOTE: The above information should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.