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Women's Health

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Heavy Menstrual Periods - Overview

Is this topic for you?

This topic covers heavy menstrual bleeding, including information about symptoms, tests, and home treatment. For more information, see the topics Normal Menstrual Cycle, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding, Uterine Fibroids, and Endometriosis.

What are heavy menstrual periods?

If you bleed a lot during your menstrual cycle, you're not alone. Many women do. When you have heavy menstrual periods (also called menorrhagia), you may:

  • Pass large blood clots and soak through your usual pads or tampons.
  • Bleed for more than 7 days. (A normal period usually lasts 4 to 6 days.)
  • Have severe menstrual cramps.

Heavy periods can be messy and unpleasant, and they may disrupt your life. But in most cases, they aren't a sign of a serious problem.

Still, it's a good idea to see your doctor. A doctor can suggest treatments to ease your symptoms and make sure that you don't have a more serious condition.

What causes heavy periods?

A number of things can cause heavy periods. These include:

  • A change in hormones. Normally one of your ovaries releases an egg during your menstrual cycle. This is called ovulation. If you don't ovulate, your hormone levels can get out of balance. This can affect the lining in your uterus and may cause heavy bleeding.
  • An irritation in the uterus. Certain things can cause this, such as using a copper IUD.
  • A growth in the uterus, such as a polyp or fibroid.
  • Adenomyosis. This condition occurs when the cells that normally line the uterus grow into the wall of the uterus.
  • Some bleeding disorders that prevent blood from clotting properly.
  • Certain medicines, such as anticoagulants.

Sometimes a cause can't be found.

When are heavy periods a cause for concern?

When you lose a lot of blood during your period, your iron levels can drop. This can cause anemia. Anemia can make you feel tired and weak. Call your doctor if you think you have anemia.

In rare cases, heavy periods may be a sign of a serious problem, such as an infection or cancer.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You pass clots of blood and soak through your usual pads or tampons every hour for 2 or more hours.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
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