If you have this problem, your flow will be so heavy that you’ll need to change your tampon or pad every hour for at least an entire day, and you’ll also have cramps so severe that they’ll stop you from doing your usual activities.
Heavy periods are sometimes caused by subtle health problems, and they can lead to other health issues. If you soak through a pad or tampon every hour or so on a regular basis, talk with your doctor. She may be able to help.
Some women have heavy periods all the time, from their very first menstrual flow. Others may start to have heavy periods after having normal periods for years or decades.
It’s always wise to discuss your heavy periods with your doctor, especially if the problem is new for you. It could lead to anemia (low levels of red blood cells), which can make you feel weak, tired, or out of breath.
Women who have menorrhagia may have to:
- Change pads or tampons at least once an hour for an entire day or more
- Change pads in the middle of the night
- Wear two pads at a time to manage heavy flow
They may also:
- Skip things they like doing, due to painful cramps
- Pass blood clots that are the size of quarters
- Have periods that last longer than 7 days
- Feel tired or short of breath
- Bleed between periods
- Bleed after menopause
There are many reasons why some women have heavy periods. These are some common causes:
Hormone problems. Every month, a lining builds up inside your uterus (womb), which you shed during your period. If your hormone levels aren’t balanced, your body can make the lining too thick, which leads to heavy bleeding when you shed the thicker lining. If you don’t ovulate (release an egg from an ovary), this can throw off the hormone balance in the body, too, leading to a thicker lining and a heavier period.
Growths in the uterus (womb). Polyps are growths within the lining of the uterus. Fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow within the uterus. Both can make your periods much heavier or make them last longer than they should.
Problems related to pregnancy. In rare cases, after sperm and egg meet, the growing ball of cells implants itself outside the uterus instead of inside. This is called an ectopic pregnancy. It can’t ever be a viable pregnancy, and it may cause serious health problems, such as heavy bleeding, which you may mistake for a heavy period. A miscarriage, which is when an unborn baby dies in the womb, can also be the cause of heavy bleeding.
Bleeding disorders. They’re not common, but bleeding disorders -- which run in families -- make it hard for someone to stop bleeding when they’ve been cut. They can also make a woman’s period heavier and make it last longer.
Some health problems. Women who have any of these conditions may have heavy periods:
Your doctor will ask about your health history, and she’ll want you to describe your symptoms. She’ll also do a physical exam and may need to order tests, like an ultrasound, Pap test, or blood tests. She may also take a sample of the tissue that’s lining your uterus. After she rules out other health problems, she may be able to diagnose you with heavy periods.
Your doctor may be able to treat your heavy periods with these methods:
Birth control options. Taking birth control pills can alter the balance of hormones in your body, which can put an end to heavy periods. Getting an IUD that emits hormones is another choice that can help lighten your periods.
Certain drugs . Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the flow of your heavy periods. You may only need to take the medication when you have your period.
Surgery. If your doctor finds that you have polyps or fibroids, you can have them shrunk or removed. This may stop the heavy bleeding.
Removing the lining of your uterus. There are different ways that doctors can do this. The simplest procedure, called dilation and curettage, or D&C, only removes the outermost layer of the lining of your uterus. It often stops heavy periods, but some women need to get this done more than once.
Other procedures (called endometrial ablation and endometrial resection) permanently remove or destroy the lining of the uterus. Women have much lighter periods afterward. Keep in mind that doctors advise women not to get pregnant after endometrial ablation or resection. You’ll still need to use birth control because these treatments aren’t a form of contraception.