There are lots of reasons why could be experiencing a heavy menstrual flow; from hormonal imbalance to conditions like endometriosis. The good news is that when there are reasons for excessive menstrual bleeding, there are options.
What make a period “heavy”?
While the personal definition of a heavy period may vary from person to person, the definition in the medical community says that a period is heavy when there is enough blood to soak a pad or tampon (or you have to empty your menstrual cup) every hour for several hours in a row. Other signs include having to change your menstrual product during the night, bleeding through to your clothes or bedding, passing blood clots larger than 2.5cm, or having your period last longer than 7 days.
Basically, if your flow is interfering with sleep and daily activities, you’ve got a heavy one.
Most women will lose less than 16 teaspoons of blood (80ml) during their period, with the average being around 6 to 8 teaspoons.
Heavy menstrual bleeding is defined as losing 80ml or more in each period, having periods that last longer than 7 days, or both.
Heavy periods are definitely unpleasant and inconvenient but for around 50% of people there are no underlying causes.
Could there be a medical reason?
There are some conditions of the womb and ovaries that can cause excessive bleeding so, if you’re worried about your bleeding, your periods have got heavier or you also having other symptoms, like period pain or bleeding between your periods, it’s worth going to see your GP.
Conditions that could affect your flow include:
- Uterine fibroids. Most common during childbearing years, these are non-cancerous growths of the uterus. They can range in size and you could have one or many. The interesting thing is that many women do have them but don’t know it, because they don’t cause any symptoms.
- A hormonal imbalance. Your hormones do a lot for your body and sometimes they can get a little out of whack. Having a hormone imbalance could be due to a number of things, including Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. The signs are plenty, including insomnia, irritability, weight gain, a low libido, depression and fatigue. All of these things can contribute to having a heavier than normal flow.
- Miscarriage. Losing the fetus before the 20th week is called a miscarriage. Not only can the toll it takes on your body cause heavy periods, but the stress that comes with it can too.
- Ectopic pregnancy. Normally, when the ovaries release an egg and it becomes fertilized by sperm in the fallopian tubes, it travels into the uterus. Sometimes, in up to 1 out of 50 pregnancies, the egg stays in the fallopian tubes. This is called an ectopic pregnancy and can be the cause of heavy periods.
- Adenomyosis. Considered a benign condition Adenomyosis happens when the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. Despite being non-threatening, this condition can make for painful cramps and heavy bleeding.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). About 1 million women each year are affected by PID. It happens when the cervix is exposed to disease-causing organisms. The most common cause is Sexually Transmitted Infections but abortions, childbirth and other pelvic procedures can also cause it.
Depending on what your doctor finds, they may prescribe some type of contraceptive, medicines or even recommend surgery.