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- What is Heavy Menstrual Periods?
- What Causes Heavy Menstrual Periods?
- Diagnosing Heavy Menstrual Periods
- Help for Heavy Menstrual Periods
- More Information on Heavy Menstrual Periods
What is Heavy Menstrual Periods?
Most women dread their period – especially when they experience heavy bleeding with almost every cycle! Heavy menstrual periods are known by their medical term menorrhagia and are described as excessive bleeding or prolonged bleeding every month. It can cause extreme discomfort, often leaving you feeling weak and light-headed. You may bleed so heavily that you are often forced to change your sanitary towel or tampon every two hours. Heavy menstrual periods can lead to a number of complications if not treated immediately.
Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. Normal menstrual flow occurs every 28 days, but can range from 21 days to 35 days, and lasts approximately 4 days (total loss of blood = 30 to 40 milliliters = 2 to 3 tablespoons). When you bleed heavily, you are actually losing 80 milliters of blood or more (16 soaked sanitary products) during your menstrual cycle, and soaking a sanitary towel or tampon every 2 to 3 consecutive hours. Some women may even bleed for a prolonged period which lasts longer than seven days.
Heavy menstrual periods can affect any woman of childbearing age. However, young adolescents who have just started their period and are not ovulating properly as well as pre-menopausal women tend to be more susceptible to Heavy menstrual periods than others. Being overweight, using certain medications such as blood thinners and having a hereditary bleeding disorder can also influence Heavy menstrual periods.
The most common symptoms and signs include:
- Changing sanitary towel or pad on an hourly basis
- Changing sanitary towel or tampon during the night
- Having to use double sanitary protection to control menstrual flow
- Experiencing prolonged menstrual bleeding (lasts longer than seven days)
- Bleeding in between periods
- Short or irregular menstrual cycle
- Menstrual flow with large blood clots
- Severe and continuous cramping in lower abdomen during menstrual period
- Excessive bleeding hampers daily routine
- Fatigue and shortness of breath
What Causes Heavy Menstrual Periods?
No one knows the exact cause of Heavy menstrual periods. However, several medical conditions and conditions may contribute to Heavy menstrual periods and these include:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Uterine fibroids
- Anovulation (lack of ovulation – when ovaries fail to produce and release eggs)
- Pregnancy complications (miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy)
- Changes in birth control or estrogen use
- Use of an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Thyroid problems
- Endometrial cancer
- Medications such as steroids, blood thinners, anti-inflammatories or anticoagulants
- Change in exercise routine or diet
- Recent weight loss or weight gain
Diagnosing Heavy Menstrual Periods
The diagnosis of Heavy menstrual periods is based on your symptoms, a pelvic exam and a review of your medical history. Your doctor will enquire about your menstrual cycle and you may be asked to keep a record of your blood flow, particularly how heavy it was. Certain tests such as blood tests, pap smear, endometrial biopsy and ultrasound scan may be performed. Additional tests such as a sonohysterogram, hysteroscopy and dilation and curettage (D and C) may also have to be performed.
Help for Heavy Menstrual Periods
If you are bleeding heavily, certain self-care strategies such as making yourself comfortable, getting plenty of rest, drinking extra fluids and eating iron-rich foods can improve how you are feeling. Monitor your menstrual cycle so that you know when to expect your period, keep track of how heavy your flow is and the number of sanitary towels or tampons used.
Take over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen which will help to reduce flow and relieve menstrual pain. Remember to avoid aspirin as it can prolong bleeding. If you are anemic, you should also increase your intake of iron and folic supplements.
Your health practitioner may recommend a low–dose oral contraceptive pill or progesterone therapy to regulate the menstrual cycle and decrease bleeding. Surgical procedures may be required if drug treatment is not effective. These treatment options include a hysterectomy, endometrial ablation (intense ultrasound waves kill endometrial lining) or dilation and curettage (cervix is dilated and tissue is scraped from the lining of the uterus).
More Information on Heavy Menstrual Periods
Tips to cope with Heavy menstrual periods
There are a number of things that you can do to help cope with and manage the discomfort of Heavy menstrual periods and these include:
- Keep a record of your menstrual flow
- Have an extra supply of sanitary towels and tampons on hand
- Apply a heat pack or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen or back if you are experiencing cramps
- Increase your intake of iron-rich foods such as dark, green vegetable, egg yolks, liver, red meat and raisins and prunes
- Exercise regularly by participating in gentle activities such as walking, yoga or pilates
- Soak in a warm bath to relax muscles and ease pain and tension
- Get plenty of rest and make yourself as comfortable as possible
- Massage lower back with arnica oil to relieve pain
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar and salt a week before your period is due – this will help reduce the severity of cramps
- Add vitamin supplements to your diet such as zinc, calcium and vitamin B6