It’s completely normal for periods to vary from person to person, and even for the same person month by month, so it can be hard to tell what a “normal” period is, so how do you know if you have a heavy period?
A general guideline is that if your period feels like it’s very heavy, it likely is. If you’re bleeding through pants regularly, have to double up on period products, or anything like that, it’s possible you do have a particularly heavy period.
There are many causes of heavy periods, ranging from lifestyle factors, life stages, stress, medications, genetics, and sometimes medical conditions.
If this sounds like you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be treated if you’re managing them okay, though iron deficiency is usually a concern. If, however, you would like to treat them, there are some things you can do. Prioritising sleep, supplementing iron/eating B-6 and/or calcium, and managing stress can all be accessible ways to improve your menstrual health in general. But, there are also medications such as anti-inflammatories, birth control, or prescription-level stuff you can get from a doctor such as medications to reduce bleeding, and prescription-strength anti-inflammatories.
What is a heavy period?
Medically, a period is considered heavy if you bleed more than 80mls per cycle (think of this as roughly two shot glasses). That said, unless you use a menstrual cup, it can be hard to measure just how much you’re bleeding exactly. On top of being hard to measure, your period could still be heavy enough to cause problems even if it’s not classified as medically heavy. So, a heavy period is more generally accepted to just be a period that’s heavy enough to have a significant impact on day-to-day life. Here are some guidelines to see if you potentially have a heavy period:
- Need to change your pad or tampon every 1 to 2 hours, or empty your menstrual cup more often than about 6 - 12 hours
- Need to use 2 types of period products together, such as a pad and a tampon
- Have periods lasting more than 7 days
- Pass blood clots larger than about 2.5cm (the size of a grape)
- Bleed through to your clothes or bedding
- Avoid daily activities, like exercise, or take time off work because of your periods
- Feel tired, dizzy, or short of breath a lot
Causes of heavy periods
Heavy periods can be normal, especially if you’re approaching menopause, you got your first period in the last few years, you’ve been pregnant recently, or you’ve recently started or come off birth control. But there are also some medical and lifestyle factors that can cause heavy periods:
- Stress and/or depression (whether chronic or situational/temporary)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibroids (non-cancerous growths along the reproductive tract), endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID - an infection of the uterus) are all underlying conditions that can cause heavy periods
- Bleeding/blood disorders
- Some medicines and medical treatments
- Very rarely, it can be a sign of uterine cancer
Treatments for heavy periods
Heavy periods don’t necessarily have to be treated if you’re able to manage day to day life and tasks with them. However, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about testing your iron levels, since excessive bleeding can cause iron deficiencycalled anemia. Additionally, if your periods are so heavy that you’re finding they are impacting your quality of life, there are treatment options available.
Lifestyle factors and stress management
While these options may not treat heavy periods directly, changing aspects of your lifestyle may help improve general health, menstrual cycle health, which, in turn, may improve your heavy periods.
- Prioritising sleep
- Eating a nutritious diet full of vitamin B-6 and calcium (and/or supplementing these things)
- Eating regularly and healthfully
- Exercising regularly
- Therapies like CBT to help manage stress
There are some medications available to treat heavy periods specifically.
- Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen (you can find these at your local chemist or supermarket)
- Hormonal birth control (depending on the type, it may cause heavy or heavier periods temporarily, but this normally resolves within 3 months, and may be a good long-term option if you can tolerate them well -just make sure you talk to a doctor about all the side effects)
- Medications that work to reduce bleeding
- Prescription-only anti-inflammatories (these are stronger than the things you can find at the chemist)
All this said, if your heavy bleeding may be caused by a medical condition, we would recommend consulting a doctor.
It can be hard to know if your period is considered heavy! But if it feels too heavy, it probably is. Lifestyle factors, life stages, stress, and medications, and medical conditions can all be potential causes of heavy periods. Practicing self-care, supplementing/eating more B-6 and/or calcium, and stress management can all be good ways to improve your general menstrual health, but there are also some OTC medications as well as prescription-strength medications that can help.
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Post by Miranda Bromage