Diagnosis and Treatment: What is Considered a Heavy Period?

Every woman uses about 240 pads or tampons every year.
And that’s just an average number. Women who suffer from heavy periods can go through even more.
But what is considered a heavy period?

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between a normal period and a heavy period and what types of treatment options are available.

What Is Considered a Normal Period?

Most women experience some mild symptoms in the days leading up to their period. They’ll also experience these symptoms during the first day or two of their period when the blood flow is heaviest. But once the blood flow lessens, many of the symptoms do as well.

Some of the symptoms you might experience include the following:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating and fluid retention
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Tender breasts
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lower back pain

No matter what symptoms you get, they should be manageable. Though you might feel some discomfort, you’ll be able to carry on with your normal activities.

What Is Considered a Heavy Period?

A heavy period comes with symptoms so severe they prevent women from getting through a normal day. This type of period is classified as a medical condition called menorrhagia, which stands for heavy period.
Women who suffer from menorrhagia will have such a heavy flow of blood during their period that they’ll have to change their pad or tampon once every hour. This heavy flow can last a full 24 hours or more.
Women with menorrhagia will also have to wake up at least once a night to change their pad or tampon.
The cramps and other symptoms that come with normal periods are much worse. Some women may have to skip school or miss work because the cramps are so debilitating.

Here’s a list of some of the other symptoms of menorrhagia:

  • Bleeding for longer than a week
  • Passing blood clots the size of a quarter
  • Using double sanitary protection
  • Anemia symptoms
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath
  • Waking up during the night to change your pad or tampon
  • Missing usual daily activities due to cramps and heavy menstrual flow

If you experience periods like this, you should talk to your doctor right away, especially if this is something new for you.

What Causes Heavy Periods?

There are several different reasons a woman can suffer from menorrhagia. Some women might develop menorrhagia over time as their body changes.
Here’s a closer look at some of the most common causes of menorrhagia.

Hormone Problems
Throughout the month, your body builds up a lining inside your uterus. Your period sheds that lining away again.
However, that lining can get too thick if you’re hormones aren’t balanced. This can cause heavy bleeding during your periods.
You can also have heavy bleeding if you’re body doesn’t ovulate (or release an egg from an ovary). Because this messes up your hormone balance, it can result in a heavy period.

Some Types of Cancer
Sometimes certain types of female cancer, like cancer of the ovaries, uterus, or cervix, can cause bleeding. This may result in a heavy period.
But this is extremely rare. If you’re experiencing symptoms of menorrhagia, this probably isn’t the cause.

Pregnancy Complications
There are some pregnancy complications that cause heavy bleeding. Though these aren’t actually periods, they may be mistaken for them.
The first pregnancy complication is called an ectopic pregnancy. This happens when the egg and sperm implant themselves outside the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can cause serious health problems, including heavy bleeding.
Miscarriages can also lead to heavy bleeding.

Some Medications
Certain types of medication can also make your period heavier than before. These medications include things like blood thinners and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Bleeding Disorders
Bleeding disorders often run in family lines. The disorders can make it difficult for someone to bleeding after they’ve been cut. In women, it can also make periods last longer and have a heavier than average blood flow.

Other Health Issue
There are several other health issues that can cause heavy periods. Some of these include liver disease, thyroid problems, kidney disease, PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), and endometriosis.

Treatment Options for Heavy Periods

There are a few different treatment options for people who suffer from heavy periods. These treatments can help reduce cramps and other symptoms, make the blood flow lighter, and reduce the length of the cycle.
You can talk to your doctor about which option will work best for you.

Birth Control
Because birth control changes the hormone balance in your body, it can make your periods lighter. You can do this with birth control pills or an IUD.
But the IUD must emit hormones. Otherwise, it can make your heavy periods worse.

Other Medications
You can take medication that helps counteract heavy blood flow. Depending on the exact medication you use, you may only have to take it during your period.

Surgery
Some women have polyps or fibroids that make periods heavier. A doctor can either shrink or remove these to reduce your blood flow during surgery.
Your doctor can also remove the inner lining of your uterus to reduce heavy periods. There are two different ways they can do this.
The first method is called dilation and curettage. The doctor will remove the outermost layer of your uterus lining. This can give you lighter periods, but you may need it done more than once.
The other method is called endometrial ablation and endometrial resection. During this procedure, the doctor will remove the entire lining of the uterus. While this will give you lighter periods, many doctors recommend that women don’t get pregnant afterward.

Diagnosing a Heavy Period
If you think you may have what is considered a heavy period, you should talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to give you a physical exam and order relevant tests. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor can recommend the best treatment option for you.
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